Forsaken In My Mind's Past
Chapter 56, Falling down in pieces

A/N: Mad, mad love to all of you, readers and reviewers, those who rec me to your friends. I heart you all.

My Betas held my hand through this (as always)…and for all they do, they own me.

Dual POV chapter… So…SO. Much. Happening in this chapter, and there's no way I can prepare you. I just hope you'll trust me to provide the HEA I promised you…eventually. *Serious, heart-wrenching drama warning.*

I do not own the Twilight characters, nor do I own the songs used in this fic. But I hope you enjoy the twisted roller coaster ride I've created. Remember to keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times until it comes to a full and complete stop. The crazy plot below, I do own. So please respect

Songs: Down~Jason Walker feat. Molly Reed
45~Shinedown (Lyrics spread through EPOV)


"I don't know where I'm at; I'm standing at the back, and I'm tired of waiting,
Waiting here in line; hoping that I'll find what I've been chasing,
I shot for the sky; I'm stuck on the ground, so why do I try? I know I'm gonna fall down;
I thought I could fly, so why did I drown? Never know why it's coming down, down, down,

Not ready to let go, 'cause then I'd never know what I could be missing,
But I'm missing way too much; so when do I give up what I've been wishing for?
I shot for the sky; I'm stuck on the ground, so why do I try? I know I'm gonna fall down;
I thought I could fly, so why did I drown? Never know why it's coming down, down, down,

Oh I am going down, down, down; can't find another way around,
And I don't want to hear the sound of losing what I never found,

I shot for the sky; I'm stuck on the ground, so why do I try? I know I'm gonna fall down;
I thought I could fly, so why did I drown? I'll never know why it's coming down, down, down,
I shot for the sky; I'm stuck on the ground, so why do I try? I know I'm gonna fall down;
I thought I could fly, so why did I drown? Oh, it's coming down, down, down."



The sound of incessant drum-beating roused me from my deep slumber. I tried to open my eyes, but it seemed they'd been soldered shut somehow. I managed to crack one eyelid open a little, only to be bombarded by the brightest light on the planet which sent a searing pain through the top of my skull. I groaned in agony, grasping for the covers, pulling them over my aching head. At that point, I realized there were no drums pounding—it was my own brain pulsing against my skull. It really was too bad...waking up feeling like ten shades of godforsaken hell when I was having – for once in a long time – the best dream ever.

Edward's lips on my feverish skin, his emerald eyes burning into mine, his fingers stroking, caressing every inch of me, his beautiful, naked body pressing me into his mattress. And sleep...incredible, amazing, nightmare-free sleep with the man I loved.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks—I hadn't been dreaming at all. I'd been feeling. Those were real things, all of them. I had slept; though there wasn't much to be had once Edward brought me here, to his apartment.

Here, where I still was; still naked, still in his bed.

And writhing in pain.

Another thing occurred to me at that moment. Hangovers...really...really...sucked.

Still, my body defiantly warmed as thoughts from the night before filled my head. The problem was the double-edged sword in those memories. I always seemed to have this issue on the rare occasions when I'd had too much to drink. Things were always a little fuzzy the next morning, of course, but other things...things like my ridiculous behavior... Most of the time, those were glaringly obvious in my memory.

Last night was no different. Pieces of it were missing. I knew I'd been having a good time...a fantastic time, in fact. The girls and I had gotten along famously. Alice had even tolerating Nicci more so than usual. I knew I had danced with Edward…and that he'd asked me to marry him...someday. My heart fluttered at the memory of it. I knew we'd danced as a group, seductively and playfully, but I just couldn't recall the songs. I remembered the shots, the champagne, the vodka and cranberry drinks, all of which made my stomach roll at the thought of them.

But one thing made me cringe inwardly. I remembered I'd upset him. Edward. I had hurt him...or made him angry; I just...couldn't remember why. What I did remember thrilled me, made my body tremble with need, and saddened me all at once.

His rigid stance, his furious glare and clenched jaw, the fire in his eyes, the way his hands had touched me, hard and rough, followed immediately by soft, gentle caresses. He'd unraveled me, left me panting at the stroke of midnight. Left me wanting more. The urge for us to just get out of there soon after the New Year began was so great, I barely registered kissing and hugging my own sister, our friends, to wish them a Happy New Year. I did remember Alice's expression, that knowing smirk her face had held when Edward announced that we were leaving.

I remembered calling Renee on the way back to his apartment...talking to my babies and wishing them a happy new year. Suddenly relieved that they had been alright, I remembered looking over at Edward...and feeling the overwhelming need for one thing—him.

I smiled, despite the pain in my head and the nausea in my stomach, as the images of our love-making flooded into my mind. My body quickened. These images were also crystal clear in my memory. We'd barely made it through the door before clothes were being ripped off. Our lips and tongues exploring, our hands roaming and our bodies colliding...against doors, against walls...stumbling up the stairs. Edward, fed up with my drunken clumsiness and giggles, had finally picked me up and hauled me into his bedroom, where he devoured every inch of me, ultimately bringing us both to euphoric release.

It was...amazing. It was always amazing with him, always.

I heard the bedroom door creak open and his soft footfalls approaching. A light thud sounded on the nightstand and then the bed dipped next to me.

"Bella," he whispered. His voice was like a soft caress. I hummed sleepily in response, the sound making my head hurt more. "Can you come out of there?"

I pulled the comforter down over my face slowly. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't resist his quiet plea. As I blinked my eyes rapidly, the brightness hit me like a lightning bolt going straight into my brain.

"Ow," I whined, squeezing my eyes shut again.

I heard him chuckling softly. "Here, take these." He took my hand, gently turned it supine, and placed two pills in it. I opened one eye a smidge to look. Advil. He was a godsend.

"Thank you," I muttered weakly, sitting up gingerly and popping the pills in my mouth. I looked around, still with only one eye open, searching for something to wash them down with, when Edward finally took my other hand in his and wrapped it around a cold glass of water. I gulped almost the entire glass before he took it from me, and fell back against the pillow with a whimper. I felt his cool breath on my face as he leaned over me to kiss me on my forehead. I opened my eyes a sliver and, seeing that he was shading most of the light, I smiled in spite of myself.

He was utterly, unequivocally, ridiculously beautiful in the morning. I just didn't know how that was possible.

"Hey," I said, my voice sounding like a wounded Sasquatch.

"Hi, beautiful," he whispered. His eyes crinkled with his grin. "I guess 'how are you feeling' would be a stupid question at this point?"

I nodded, grimacing. He sighed, smoothing my hair away from my face.

"Well, I brought you something. Can you sit back up for me?"

"Coffee?" I growled.

He chuckled again. "No, some warm tea."

"Oh," I said, pursing my lips, disappointed. I really needed some damned coffee.

"Let's try this first," he offered, watching my facial expression closely. "The caffeine will help your headache, and the antioxidants are good for you, baby."

How could I resist him?

I nodded my still aching head and moved to sit up as Edward fluffed the pillows behind my back. He held the cup in front of me, but instead of taking it from him, I wrapped my hands around his and leaned into it. It wasn't the coffee I was craving, but it still smelled great...minty and citrusy. Taking a sip, I hummed in relief as the delicious liquid coated my throat and soothed my stomach. He sweetened it with honey. He was beyond amazing.

"I don't deserve you," I murmured with a sigh, feeling slightly better already.

"You said that last night." He looked a little chagrined. "Do you...remember?"

"Of course," I replied immediately. "Right after you asked me to marry you and I said yes."

His mouth spread into a wide, satisfied grin.

"I remember something else too," I continued, averting my eyes.


I shook my head, not sure I wanted to approach the subject. His finger curled under my chin to lift my eyes to his.

"I...upset you. Why? What-what did I say to you?"

His eyes flashed, and his jaw clenched for a split second before he recovered. "You don't remember." It wasn't a question. He knew I didn't. "It was...nothing, Bella. You were just drunk and..." He hesitated, looking everywhere except my eyes. "Don't worry about it, okay? I'm...fine."

"I doubt that," I muttered, given the look on his face. "And I am worried about it, Edward. Just tell me."

He sighed, running a hand through his hair before looking into my eyes with trepidation. "You just kept saying you're married...with a hot boyfriend." He grinned just slightly at the last part. My eyes grew wide. I was instantly mortified, knowing I hurt him by saying that and embarrassed him, probably in front of everyone within earshot. "And then you kept apologizing for marrying him and, Bella..." he trailed off, shaking his head. "I just didn't want to hear it anymore."

"I'm so sorry," I murmured, reaching up to touch his face. He didn't look angry, just sad. He took my hand, kissing my palm before running his thumb over my knuckles. His eyes tracked the movement. "I'm the one who should be sorry. I lost my temper with you and I hate myself for it."

"Well," I replied, lifting his chin this time so he could see the wry grin on my face. "I do remember the aftermath." He licked his lips, his eyes shifting quickly to my mouth and back up. "If that's going to be the result every time, I should definitely anger you more often."

He chuckled. "I can't promise it will...but I'll try." With that, he pulled me toward him, kissing me fiercely and making my insides burn. Arousal coursed through me, but at the same time, my head decided it had other ideas, beginning its steady, pounding drum beat again.

"Ow," I groaned again, pressing my hand into the sides of my head, desperate to relieve the pounding.

"Oh man, you're already starting with the headache excuses?" Edward said playfully...and quietly, thank God.

I smacked at his shoulder. "Seriously!"

"I know," he laughed. He was so beautiful when he did that...even when he didn't. Too bad I couldn't fully enjoy it. He leaned over and kissed my forehead. "Drink your tea, baby. I'll be right back.

Minutes later, he returned with a plate in hand and a smile. I immediately put my hand over my mouth, shaking my head as my stomach rolled at the thought of whatever was on it.

"Yes, you need to eat," he chided, with all the authority of puppy dog. "It's only dry toast. Take little nibbles until it's all gone. Doctor's orders. We have to get you feeling better, baby, you have a birthday party to plan." He leveled those gorgeous green eyes on me and I was putty in his hands.

"Yes, doctor." I rolled my eyes...which hurt like hell.

I must've dozed off after finishing the toast and tea because the next thing I knew, I awoke to the magnificent sound of Edward whispering my name and the feel of his feather-light kisses all over my face.

"I've drawn you a bath," he said, smiling.

For fear of sounding like one of the Grumpy Old Men, I merely nodded, stunned that he had even thought of such a thing. Though why, I wasn't sure. The man never ceased to amaze me. I let out an embarrassing squeal when he scooped me up in his arms, carrying me into his en suite bathroom. I couldn't help but nuzzle his neck, breathing in his incredible scent that was a little citrus, a little sandalwood, a little musk...and all Edward.

"Have I mentioned that I don't deserve you?" I whispered in his ear.

He hummed in response. "Indeed you have, my love, several times. And I've assured you each time that you do. I mean that," he said as he stood me on my feet. My eyes widened as I took in my surroundings. It was fairly dark in the bathroom, save for the small skylight above letting in some of the overcast light. There were candles lit on each corner of the huge tub, letting off the distinct scent of freesia. I looked up at him in awe as he gazed down at me. I wasn't even paying attention to the fact that I was completely nude. Apparently the modesty ship had sailed long ago because, as I looked up at him through my lashes, the burning in my belly more nausea, no more headache...I just wanted him.

"I, uh, I added some bath oil. I thought you might like it." He shrugged, wearing that crooked grin...and boxer briefs. "And the candles are...I wanted this to be relaxing for you."

My heart swelled with the love I had for him, but my thoughts were lust-filled. I felt my body flush, feeling the heat of him near me, and I reached back, ghosting my fingers over his bare hips. He shuddered slightly, sucking in a breath through his teeth.

"I'll get in there on one condition," I murmured, trying to make my voice sound sexy. It was futile. "You come in with me."

"This is about me taking care of you, Bella." He snaked his arms around my waist, pulling me back against him. I felt him swell and harden against my lower back as I exhaled a quiet moan.

"This..." I pressed into him, grinning wickedly when he hissed, his fingers tensing against my stomach, "is non- negotiable."

He chuckled, his chest vibrating against my back. "You act as if I would ever deny you. You know I can't, baby. I'm just glad you're feeling better," he crooned, his lips taking purchase on the area just below my ear.

I pressed into him again and this time, he spun me around, lifting me with one arm as he discarded his boxer briefs on the floor, wrapping my legs around him. Turning us, he pressed me against the counter, his fingers teasing the flesh just below my bare ass.

I cried out as he entered me swiftly and stilled, both of us panting.

"Are you okay?" he breathed, obviously concerned with my exhaustion, not to mention soreness from the night before. I, on the other hand, was oblivious to it. Tired...yes. Sore...maybe a little. But this, him buried deep inside me, surging, filling me deeper with each thrust, was exactly what I needed, despite the slight pinch and burning. I needed more, always.

Hell yes, I was okay. I told him just that as his hips pistoned against mine twice more deliciously before he stopped.

"Hold on tight," he grunted, wrapping his long arms around me, pulling me from the cool marble but keeping our bodies tightly fused together. He took a couple steps to the bathtub, flipped a switch, making the water roar to life with churning bubbles – making me breathless in anticipation – and carefully stepped in. I didn't know whether to be excited that he had a Jacuzzi tub and we were about to have sex in it, or annoyed that I'd forgotten he had a Jacuzzi tub in which we could've been having sex all along. Dilemmas. Ultimately, I chose excited.

"Are you holding on?" he asked in my ear.

"Yes," I answered, scraping my teeth along his neck.

"Fuck, Bella, wait a minute," he groaned. I felt him twitch inside me; his knees buckled slightly. "Don't move," he ordered. God, it was so sexy when he demanded things.

He lowered us down until he was sitting with me straddling him in the huge tub. I spread my legs wider, immediately attacking his mouth as the warm water swirled around us.

"Move now, baby," he pleaded as he pulled back, gasping. I bucked against him, stopping, smiling wickedly, feeling like teasing him. "Keep moving...fuck...don't stop...please don't stop," he moaned as I complied, grinding against him repeatedly, kissing him feverishly between his pleas.

The churning, jetted water was like a thousand little fingers teasing me, arousing me beyond what I thought possible; driving me to the brink.

"Mmmm," I moaned into his mouth as his hips surged up to meet mine, his hands roaming everywhere they could reach above and below the water.

"So…good," he growled as his tongue stroked the shell of my ear, moving languidly to my jaw, chin, and finally delving into my mouth.

"Edward...Edward...Edward," I chanted, feeling the surge of his cock against my inner walls.

"Talk to me, baby," he begged. His right hand disappeared under the water, his left pressing and kneading my back, gliding up to my neck and tangling in my hair. I gasped, biting down on his lip when I felt his finger between us, circling my most sensitive flesh. Shockwaves of pleasure gripped my body, rendering me helpless as those talented fingers continued their dance relentlessly; our hips undulating in rhythm together. I whimpered, beginning to shudder as his mouth took mine, our tongues licking and sliding against one another.

"Tell me when you're coming, baby."

His words were all I needed. With one last thrust, I began to unravel.

"I'm...I'm..." I could no longer speak. My orgasm ripped through me, holding me paralyzed and mute as the fire ignited, exploding through my body, my muscles clenching him without mercy. He released his hand, using both to grip my hips so tightly I thought I might bruise, but, God, I didn't care. He held me to him, grunting loudly against my neck, his pelvis tilting upward once more almost violently as he stilled, pulsed and emptied into me.

Our chests heaved, our breaths short, unsteady. He held my face in front of his and kissed me softly. "It just gets better and better with you," he said, his eyes glimmering. I responded by kissing his forehead, as he always did to me.

"I'll remind you of that in fifty years when I'm old and wrinkly from head to toe with no teeth." I smirked.

"And I'll do the same when I'm old and decrepit, and the gear no longer works," he teased. I laughed, shaking my head. "It's not funny, Bella! Erectile dysfunction is a serious problem among elderly men! And there's a strong possibility you'll want to leave me for a much younger seventy-year-old with a working dick!"

I rolled my eyes. "I highly doubt that. And let's cross the erectile dysfunction bridge when we get there, okay?"

"Okay," he chuckled. "I love you, Bella."

A sudden impulse to cry took hold of me as I looked into his eyes, though I had no idea why. I decided at that moment, that I was never drinking again. Hangovers fucked with my emotions entirely too much.

"Promise you won't ever leave me." My voice sounded strangled, my words desperate over the whirr of the jets.

His expression sobered instantly, his fingers ghosting over my face tenderly. "Baby, I promise. I will never leave you, do you understand me? Never. You have nothing to worry about."

I nodded and smiled, still feeling this pang of despair deep in my chest.

He lifted me off of him slowly, the sting of the water making me whimper slightly, and helped me stand. He started the shower as the tub drained away the evidence of our love-making. My body felt as if it weighed a ton; my legs felt boneless as I struggled to rinse off the oil. Edward took control, as always, lathering me up, then himself, taking liberties to move my body under the spray.

"So much for relaxing," he said, noticing my exhaustion.

"I'm...fine, better than fine," I slurred a little, feeling the overwhelming need for sleep grip me once more. Another reason to never drink rendered me absolutely useless the next day.


I made a quick call to Renee to check on the twins, and was relieved to hear that they were still sleeping. She followed that up by telling me to rest as much as possible because, once they awoke, they were not only going to be amped up about the new year, but also about their birthday party happening the following day. Didn't I know it.

We cuddled on Edward's leather sofa watching a little of the Rose Bowl for the remainder of the morning. Well, Edward watched, I dozed off on numerous occasions as his fingers glided soothingly up and down my arm. Finally, the idea that I should probably get up and be a mother popped into my head, so I began to gather my overnight bag, my ripped dress, and the death-traps I called shoes from the night before together. Just as I finished packing up, while I was brushing through my tangled mess of hair, I heard Edward's phone ringing.

I walked into the bedroom just as he answered, noticing the change in his demeanor immediately. His eyes darted from side to side as he listened to the caller. His jaw clenched, his posture was rigid, tense.

"What's wrong?" His voice was as tense as his stance, but monotone, almost mechanical. His eyes flickered to mine when he noticed me, and I saw something in them that made my heart skid to a stop...fear. "How long has she been like this?"

She? My mind reeled back to the day at Millennium Park when he told me about his patient and her baby that died. It made my heart ache for him that another one of his patients was possibly in trouble. I watched as the color drained from his face.

"Wake her up!" he screeched. I startled at his tone. "I'm sorry...Mom...Mom...where's Dad? Okay, I'm on my way. Yes, I have to run Bella home first. I'll...get there as soon as I can."

His mom? He was talking to his mom. And then I realized...he wouldn't have looked so terrified had it been one of his patients. Oh God, something was wrong with Kendyll. My hand flew to my chest with worry as soon as he ended the call and looked at me.

"We have to go. I...I'm sorry, we have to go now."

I nodded. "What's happened?"

"Kendyll's sick," he said walking ahead of me. "She spiked a fever out of nowhere. Esme can't get it to come down." He stopped and turned around to look at me. "Bella, it's a hundred and six." My eyes widened in alarm. "If it goes any higher...she'll seize." His chest began to heave; he seemed frozen, unsure of what to do.

I approached him quickly and took his arm. "Where's Carlisle?"

He shook his head. "He's at the hospital. Esme said he's in surgery. I-I have to get to her."

I nodded again. "Do you want me to come with you?" I offered, terrified for her.

He shook his head. "I need to get you back to your kids...Renee." He took a sharp breath. "Esme said she fell asleep. She can't be asleep. What if...what if she doesn't wake up? I can't...I can't..." he trailed off, shaking his head, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. My heart fractured for him because in that moment I realized...she was truly his child. For all intents and purposes, he was her father; he was all she had. He was being a dad in this moment, not a doctor...paralyzed by fear.

I placed my palm on his cheek. "Okay, Edward, let's go. We have to go."

He nodded mechanically.

As soon as we got in the car, I turned to him. "You have to get her to the hospital, Edward. Maybe Esme should call an ambulance?"

He shook his head. "I have to get to her. I...I have to take care of her," he rambled. As a mother, I couldn't argue with him. He felt the need to be there for her and I understood completely.

The drive to my house was quick and silent. Edward's hands were firmly gripped to the steering wheel as he sped through town. When we turned onto my long driveway, he released his right hand, reaching for mine, squeezing it tightly.

"I'm...sorry about this." His words were garbled, breathy.

I leaned over and grabbed his face, kissing him quickly. "Don't apologize for this, Edward. Just get to Kendyll." He furrowed his brow, nodding. "She'll be okay, baby," I tried my best to soothe him. "I know you'll take care of don't know how to do anything else."

"I love you," he breathed, his forehead resting on mine.

"I love you too, Edward, so much. Now go. Call me as soon as you can, okay?"

He nodded, kissing my lips once more before I slipped out of the car and into my house.

I worried myself sick the rest of the day, especially when I didn't hear from Edward. I was thankful, though, that I had the twins to distract me. I kept myself busy with frivolous things like birthday parties rather than feeling an immense amount of guilt for not being with Edward...I prayed often, quietly to myself, that Kendyll would be okay. I had so many things on my mind that I could hardly keep my thoughts straight. Renee told me that there had been exactly zero phone calls...which meant that Jacob had yet to call and wish his kids a happy new year...which, in all honesty, pissed me off, but at the same time, I hadn't expected him to. He had called time after I had text him to let him know the kids were sick, and that was all I'd heard from him in a week. I wasn't surprised. If it wasn't about Jake, he wasn't into it. I figured it would take a long while for him to get over Christmas day. It really kind of sucked for his children that he was a child himself.

What was mainly weighing on my mind, other than the situation with Kendyll, was that Sergeant Hawkins hadn't called. I'd been hoping they would've had news for me on James and the handwriting sample they said they were going to get from him, but I'd heard nothing. Again, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, I was no longer a "victim" in the eyes of the Chicago PD, and James was a non-suspect. None of that helped the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I felt helpless, and I hated it.

The twins and I kept busy, with Grammy Renee's help, cleaning up the house, the kids' rooms, and getting it ready for their party. Renee's odd sixth sense had apparently alerted her to my worry and unease, as she pulled me to the side at one point to drill me about what was going on. I had already explained to her about the house, showed her repeatedly how to use the security system – so much so that she had practically kicked me out the door the evening before, not wanting to hear it anymore – so she knew it was something else.

Reluctantly, I told her about Kendyll, and how I was going out of my mind with worry because I'd heard nothing. A part of me felt insane, worrying about a child I didn't even know. I could've justified it by saying I was just worried about Edward, which of course I was, but truth be told, this was Edward's child – in his mind at least – and I was more concerned than even I could explain. Because of my state of mind, and all of the drama exploding around me, Renee insisted on staying another night.

By the time the evening rolled around, I couldn't take it anymore. I thought incessantly about trying Edward's phone but I didn't want to bother him. I knew he was probably unable to speak anyway, or else he would've called. Still, I had to find out something, anything. So I called Nicci to find out if Emmett had heard anything by chance, only to discover Emmett hadn't even been aware of the situation. I felt terrible for putting him in this position, but I was desperate to know something. So when Nicci said Emmett was going to make a few calls and would get back to me as soon as possible, relief washed over me. She offered her support, which I appreciated, and didn't talk my ear off, which I appreciated even more.

When the phone rang, I snatched it up on the first ring.

"Hey Belly-Bells!" Emmett's chipper tone made me smile. I expected good news since he was so upbeat, but I should've known that was just Emmett. He sighed; I could hear the frustration in it. "Well, I got ahold of Carlisle. He says she's stable right now."

"What's going on with her?" I cut in. "Is Edward with her?"

"I don't know." He sounded as worried as I felt. "I guess they're running tests. Carlisle says Edward hasn't left her side. He'll call you, Bella, when he can. I know he will."

My heart stuttered in my chest before I answered with a simple "okay."

It was bad. It had to be. Edward would've called me by now if it was something less serious. I was grateful that Emmett had gotten me some information, and I told him so, but now I just felt more worry. Something in the back of my mind wouldn't let me relax about it. I just wanted to speak to Edward. I started to tell him goodbye, when he stopped me.

"Bells, you take care of yourself. Hopefully everything will be alright by tomorrow. He'll call you. I promise." I nodded as if he could see me. Something in his voice calmed me though. "And Nicci and I will see you tomorrow at the party."

"I'm so glad you guys are coming, Em. The twins will be so excited to see you again." And Krissy will probably think Nicci is a real life princess, that godforsaken inner voice taunted me. I rolled my eyes at my own thoughts.

"Well, I'm pretty sure little Robby still has his doubts about whether I'm a better ninja warrior than Edward. I feel I must prove myself," he said teasingly.

"As long as you don't call him 'little Robby' to his face," I laughed.

"Thanks for the tip."

After the twins spent what felt like hours bouncing off the walls, talking non-stop about their party and who was coming, etc., they finally began to wind down. I was hoping that Kellan was still going to be able to come because they were beyond excited to see him again. I almost got away with not telling them about Kendyll, but Krissy' s memory was inhumanly accurate. So when she mentioned meeting Kendyll, I had to explain that she was very sick and we should send her happy prayers. That seemed to do the trick. The twins fell asleep without further incident. Of course I couldn't help but hope for a miracle...that she would be fine and able to come tomorrow...but in truth, I knew better.

After Renee helped me tuck the kids in, she put her arm around my shoulder. "Bella, honey, you should get some rest. I know you're tired and we've got a big day tomorrow. You know Ali's gonna be here hours before she needs to, to start decorating."

I rolled my eyes and nodded, groaning. "If Edward calls—"

"I'll wake you; I promise."

As soon as I agreed, I heard my cell ringing in the living room. I had turned the volume up as high as it would go, hoping I wouldn't miss his call. I bolted down the stairs as fast as my legs would carry me without killing myself, and grabbed it. Finally...finally it was Edward.

"Hey," I said as soothingly as I could.

"Hey, baby." His voice sounded worn and ragged. My heart ached for him instantly. "I'm sorry I haven't called. It's been..." He sighed.

"You sound exhausted," I murmured. "Is everything okay? How is she? Are you okay?" I instantly regretted bombarding him with questions. There was a long silence as I listened to his stuttered breathing. My heart began to pound, my stomach sank and, suddenly, I didn't want him to answer.

"I'm..." he sighed again, "just tired. She's stable...for now." I could hear the underlying anguish in his tone. It made tears prick at the back of my eyes.

"Do you know what's going on with her?" I asked, once again afraid of the answer. I couldn't help but feel everything Edward was feeling. My emotions were directly connected to his; it couldn't be avoided.

"Not really," he answered quietly. "And it's fucking difficult when we don't have medical records to go by."

"You can't get them?" I was shocked and confused.

"State government red tape," he complained. "But we should be getting them within the week. I just...hope it's not too late." The last part was barely audible, but I heard it, and it alarmed me.

"What? What...what do you mean, Edward?"

"Bella, I worked in pediatrics briefly and I've seen a lot of sick kids." He paused. I patiently waited for him to continue. "I've never seen a child as sick as Kendyll who wasn't a fucking cancer patient."

"Oh God," I whispered, moving to sit on the sofa.

He cleared his throat. I could tell he was getting emotional and it nearly killed me. "I'm not saying that's what it is. We don't know...they're running tests, but tests take time. It's so fucking frustrating. I mean, she hasn't been okay for a while and I should've known something was seriously wrong."

"Baby, you can't blame yourself," I cooed, but of course it didn't do much to calm him.

"I can when I'm a doctor and should've seen the signs," he snapped. I didn't take it personally. I knew it was just the worry and exhaustion talking. "I'm sorry, Bella. I'm just... She hasn't been eating that well since I've known her. We've practically had to make her eat. And now, she can't keep anything down. Her abdomen is distended; her fever has barely come down..."

I continued to listen as the floodgates finally opened.

"When I got to her, Esme had her awake, but she was barely coherent, delirious with fever. I tried...I tried to get her to respond to me, but then she just...collapsed on me. We...we rushed her here and she...Bella, she had a my arms on the way to the hospital."

I gasped. I couldn't speak around the lump in my throat.

"Baby, I've never felt so scared...or helpless in all my life. I thought I was losing her," he admitted, his voice cracking. "I just wish I could hold you right now. I need you," he whispered.

"I know, Edward, I'm so sorry."

"No, I am. You have so much going on and here I am putting all this on you. Baby, I'm sorry."

"Don't do that, Edward. I'm here for you no matter what, alright? I just want you to be okay, and Kendyll to be okay. Where's Kellan? Does he know?"

Edward sighed again, a drawn out, frustrated sigh. "He's with his mother." The disdain in his voice was clear. "He knows she's sick; Esme called him. But he doesn't know everything."

"Edward, I know you don't want to, but you need to sleep. Maybe you should go home, just rest for a while?"

"I'm gonna shower here," he said matter-of-factly. "I have extra clothes in my office. Esme is going to pick Kel up in the morning and bring him here so Rosalie whatever it is that she does."

"That's good," I offered, "I'm sure he's worried."

"Bella, I hate to ask this of you. I...know you have a lot going on, but I don't want him to be worrying about this all day tomorrow. I want him to have fun, be distracted, ya know?"

I nodded. I really needed to stop doing that while on the phone. "Yes."

"So I was wondering, would it be okay if maybe I dropped him off early for the party?"

"You're not staying." I said that mainly to myself, not realizing just how selfish it sounded.

"Baby," he sighed again. "I need to be here with her. I...thought you'd understand... If-if you don't want him to be there without me, it's okay, I just—"

"Are you kidding?" I came to my senses, feeling like such an asshole for making him question me. "Edward, of course it's okay! I'm so sorry. I didn't mean anything like that. And if you think he'll be okay without you here, then absolutely. You need to be with her." I meant that from the bottom of my heart. It fractured me to think of how much pain he was in. I could feel it, even through the phone.

"Okay, baby, I should...I should get back." He sounded so sad. I fought the building tears in my eyes, but one slipped out traitorously. "Bella, thank you," he whispered. "I love you, so much. I'll see you tomorrow."

I held my breath, trying to keep the sob that wanted to escape at bay, blowing out slowly, evenly. "I love you too, Edward. Please get some rest."


Morning came entirely too soon. The nightmares returned ten-fold. I saw James every time I closed my eyes. Saw him standing at the end of my bed holding a butcher knife, a creepy smirk adorning his face, waiting...waiting to cut me to pieces. And even though I didn't want to sleep because of that, I had to end up taking a sleeping pill. It knocked me out finally, but only with a couple of hours to spare before I needed to be up.

The twins were particularly relentless in their hyperactivity. They followed Alice and me around like lost little puppy dogs – with Renee trying fruitlessly to corral them – while we transformed the living room and kitchen into Alice's idea of a 'winter fairytale wonderland.' Sure, it wasn't princesses and ninjas, but the kids seemed taken by the idea of fairies, elves, tree monsters and snowflake queens. Icicles hung from nearly every corner of the rooms, white, sparkling taffeta was strewn about in ways to make it look like glistening snow indoors, and we attempted to erect a few dark, plywood trees around the living room. Thankfully, Emmett and Nicci were the first ones to arrive, as Emmett took on the job of finishing up the trees for us. When everything was finally finished, I looked around in admiration. My sister, pain in the ass that she was, was pretty damned brilliant.

When I introduced Nicci to the twins, I couldn't help the smirk on my face seeing how enamored they were with her. Robby stared as if he was witnessing an angel in the flesh, and Krissy pulled me down to her with wide eyes.

"Mommy is she a real princess?" my darling daughter asked. I wanted to roll my eyes, but I didn't.

"No, baby, but maybe to Emmett," I answered, giggling. I cut my eyes to Alice, who did roll hers as she turned to adjust some taffeta. "She's very pretty, though, right?" She nodded, her huge brown eyes glued to Nicci.

I ushered the kids into their rooms to get dressed. Krissy was so excited about her dress, I thought she would burst. She was the self-proclaimed ice princess. Really it was just a Tiffany blue dress with white tulle and a fair amount of sparkles. Robby, on the other hand, was not keen on the slacks, white sweater and plaid button-down Alice had specifically picked up for today.

"That's gay!" Robby shouted when I showed him the outfit. I was momentarily taken back by his brash behavior, but recovered quickly, shooting him a menacing mommy glare.

"Robert William! Your auntie Alice got this especially for you, and you will wear it, understand?" He huffed, pouted and threw his little arms across his chest.

"I wanna wear my karate gi, Mom! It's not fair!"

I sighed. "Robby, it's dirty. You've worn it every day since Christmas."

"I don't care!"

Obviously reasoning wasn't in the cards. "Well I do, young man. And you better change that attitude or else there will be no present-opening for you today," I said sternly. Frustration built as he continued to pout. "Alright, how about jeans instead of the slacks? I promise I'll wash the karate thing and you can wear it tomorrow, okay?" I was trying to pick my battles here...compromise. Oh the joys of motherhood. He finally relented, knowing better than to push me further, and put on the damned sweater. Krissy insisted that Nicci help her with her dress, which hurt my feelings a smidge, but after all, Nicci was a fucking princess. I was sure she was in her own mind as well. I took what felt like about a thousand pictures since I knew I'd most likely be too busy attending to guests once everyone got there. That, of course, was another reason for Robby to pout.

Emmett insisted on checking out his 'handy work' as he called it, so I pulled up the surveillance system on the TV as he had shown me. Alice, Nicci, Emmett and I gathered around the monitor to check out the four different screens displayed. It really was pretty damned awesome.

"You were right, Bella, I am a fucking genius!" he bellowed. Nicci smacked him in the back of his head. He cowered, rubbing at the spot she smacked and scowling at her. "What? What the hell did you do that for?" She made to smack him again, but I stopped her, holding back a laugh.

"Um, little ears, Emmett," I started. He looked at me blankly. Genius...right. "Could you just watch your language a little?"

He raised his eyebrows. Ah, light bulb moment. He smiled at me sheepishly. "My bad." He glanced at the screen, suddenly pointing. "Bella, excuse my language, but who the hell is that?"

"Who?" I stared at the area where he was pointing, but the screen was a little too grainy; all I saw was a blurry figure.

He zoomed in, pointing again. "That. Who is that?"

I looked closely at the hooded man lurking around the end of my driveway. A chill crept its way down my spine; the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end...

James stared into the camera with dead, ice blue eyes and smiled as if he knew we were watching him…as he watched us.

"Oh my God," I breathed, my trembling hand flying to my mouth. "It's James. We-we have to call the cops. I turned toward Renee, who was sitting on the sofa with the twins looking through a picture album. Her questioning eyes met my terrified ones. She stood immediately, leaving the book with the kids and rushing over to me.

"Bella what is it? What's the matter?"

"Mother," I said, trying to keep my voice low, trying like hell to keep the fear out of it. "There are more picture albums in my bedroom. Take the kids up there and don't come down until I say. Please."

She shook her head, confused. "What's going on?"

"Just please do it," I begged, "I'll tell you later, okay?"

She nodded. I watched as she expertly herded my babies upstairs. When they disappeared, Emmett walked up to me, taking my arm gently.

"James? The same James Edward beat up at the hospital? The fucktard who attacked you? The same James who came in here and the Chicago PD did nothing? That James?"

I nodded as frightened tears filled my eyes. Alice was at my side in an instant, wrapping a protective arm around my waist. Nicci just looked more confused than usual. Emmett's eyes flashed. Never, in all the years I'd known him, had I seen rage in his eyes like I saw in that moment.

"Fuck the fucking police," he growled, marching toward the front door.

"Emmett, wait! Where are you going?" I screeched, following him.

He turned on me pointing at the floor. "Stay here. I'm gonna take that motherfucker by surprise." Briefly, I debated internally whether I should get my gun for him. The sick part of me, as long as it could've been hidden from my children, would've been happy to let Emmett shoot to kill. But, I squashed that ridiculous idea as soon as I thought it.

"No! Emmett, please don't!" I begged. "My dad will be here soon, maybe he could..."

"What, Bella? Arrest him?" He shook his head. "No, this motherfucker needs to be running scared, and that's exactly what I'm gonna make him do."

"Well, I'm coming with you!" I insisted.

"Me too," Nicci added.

"No, Bella. Nicci," he looked at her with such love in his eyes, it made me ache for Edward. "No. You stay here."

He tore out the front door, with Nicci and I both close behind him. "Alice, watch the camera!" I yelled behind me. "If something bad happens, call for help!"

"Bad as in James doesn't fucking die?" she called after me. I just shook my head.

"Goddamn it, I told you two to stay in the house!" Emmett snarled, stopping to confront us. Jesus, he was really scary when he was angry.

"This is my house," I muttered petulantly, jutting my chin out.

"Yeah!" Nicci chimed in. I looked at her incredulously.

"Are you kidding me?" his eyebrows crawled up to his hairline. After a couple seconds of staring at us, he shook his head. "Fine! Stubborn-ass women," he muttered. "Stay the fuck behind me."

With military precision, we snuck through the woods to the left of my driveway. Luckily, the sun had been out for the last two days leaving patches where the snow had melted. My heart thundered in my chest when James came into view, but by the time he noticed us, Emmett was already on him, grabbing him from behind, pulling his hood down and twisting it, strangling him.

"You have about two fucking seconds to disappear before I put you to sleep!" Emmett roared. James immediately held his hands up, gesturing surrender as Nicci and I stared on in shock.

"Okay, man," James choked on his words.

Emmett shoved him so hard with one hand that James lurched forward, stumbling on the gravel before crashing into it; his hands visibly bloodied. "I'm going to start counting now, motherfucker," Emmett sneered. James stood up slowly, brushing his hands on his jeans – now stained with blood – and turned to us, leveling those deadly eyes on me, smiling malevolently. I shuddered, his cold stare freezing me to the bone. "One…two!" Emmett started toward him but I jumped forward, grabbing his arm. He stopped, looked from me to James and back to me before nodding reluctantly.

"Get the hell out of here, James!" I hissed, trying to keep my voice steady. I was certain he was like a wild animal. He could smell my fear.

"Sure thing, sweet cheeks," he retorted. His voice made my stomach roll with nausea. "But won't you introduce me to your…" he paused, eyeing Emmett with almost amusement, then licking his lips as his eyes flickered to Nicci. It made me sick. "…friends."

Emmett roared with mocking laughter. "Emmett McCarty, fuck-stick, you want me to spell it? I'd say pleased to meet you, but I'm not. I'd really rather just take care of what your momma should of done with you in-utero a long fucking time ago. But obviously, she was a stupid whore."

James growled through his teeth; he glared at Emmett murderously as his nostrils flared and his jaw clenched. Emmett didn't even bat an eyelash. James seemed to compose himself long enough to cut his eyes to me before focusing on Nicci, who was clinging to the other side of Emmett.

"What's your name, gorgeous?"

"She's none of your fucking business," Emmett growled, stepping in front of her.

James chuckled. "What is such a beautiful, young thing like you doing with an asshole like that? Does he take care of you like your daddy did?"

"You son-of-a-bitch!" Nicci screamed, jumping forward before Emmett could grab her. She slapped James across the face with a loud crack, his head jerking to the side violently.

"Nicci no!" I yelled, pulling her back toward me. Emmett grabbed her around the waist and whirled her around.

"I told you to stay the fuck behind me, Nicci!" he shouted.

"Nobody talks about my dad like that, Emmett!" Nicci shouted back.

"Aw, this is sweet," James sneered. "Beautiful Bella, it's nice to see you got yourself a guard-dog. And what a cute one she is. Nicci," he sighed dreamily.

The next thing I knew, James was on the ground, writhing and holding his nose as blood gushed from it. Emmett towered over him with clenched fists, but when James began to laugh maniacally, Emmett reached down, picking James up by his hair with one hand. His other hand closed easily around James' throat. James struggled, but his feet weren't even touching the ground. For a moment, I really thought Emmett might kill him like this. I could do nothing but hold onto Nicci and stare. Emmett threw him literally ten feet into the street in front of my house. He landed with a thud, but rolled onto his hands and knees, getting up unsteadily.

"Didn't I tell you once already to get the fuck out of here?" Emmett snarled.

James stood up, swaying slightly. He waved, as if he was just a friend of ours, leaving after a visit. What a sick and twisted individual. "See ya around, Nicci," he grinned ominously. "Bella," he turned his icy eyes on me. "I'll always see you around."

Adrenaline coursed through me as I began to tremble from head to toe. I took a step forward but Emmett grabbed me. "You're sick, James!" I screamed. "You don't scare me or my friends, so leave right-fucking-now!"

Emmett strode forward, throwing another punch, this time in James' gut, which sent air rushing from his mouth and him flying backward once again. He rolled around until he was off the street on the other side. I watched as he crawled a ways before finally being able to get up and stumble off. Emmett put his arms around both Nicci and me, and walked us back to the house, watching over his shoulder, murmuring in my ear soothingly that James was gone. Once we got inside, I found that I had a hard time letting go of Emmett's arm. Before I could control myself, I was hyperventilating.

"Bella!" Alice and Nicci collectively shrieked in alarm. Emmett grabbed me, picking me up and holding me tightly to him. He repeated over and over that it was alright. That James was gone, that he wasn't coming back, but I couldn't seem to calm down. "Breathe, Sis, breathe," Alice chanted.

"I need Edward," I whimpered, gasping for air. "I need E-Edward."

"Oh, thanks a lot! My head just shrank a little, Bells," Emmett chuckled. "What am I, chopped liver?"

Finally getting my breathing under control, I stepped back from him. "I'm so sorry, Emmett, I didn't mean it like that. I don't…I don't know how to thank you. You didn't have to—"

"Bella, stop. How many times do I have to tell you, Edward's not the only one around to protect you? You're like a little sister to me. I'll always have your back."

I hugged him tightly. "Thank you."

"Aw, shucks," he said, rolling his eyes. "Now come on, get those kiddos down here, it's time to party!"

"Emmett, no one is here," I said smiling.

He looked around, his brow furrowed, finally grinning at me. "So? I'm here."


Angela and Ben were the next ones to arrive, followed not long after by Garrett, Tanya and Journey. I was getting a little worried because it was later than Edward said they'd be here, and he and Kellan had yet to show up. Though the party had barely started – Emmett and Nicci were hours early – I couldn't help but feel like something was wrong. At least I was distracted by mommy duty, scolding the twins every five minutes for bombarding Angela about her swollen belly and trying to touch said belly to feel the baby move. Ang took it in stride, giggling, letting them touch one at a time.

"Dude, that's so gross!" Robby screeched when he apparently felt a kick. "It's a Kung Fu baby!"

"Alright," I chided. "Krissy, why don't you take Journey to your room and show her your princess castle until it's time for presents." She squealed, taking the beautiful little girl's hand – who looked almost identical to her mother – and leading her up the stairs. About that time, I saw Robby standing in the kitchen, sulking a little.

"What's the matter, buddy," I asked, leaning down to him.

He shrugged. "There's no boys here for me to play with." I instantly felt guilty. Because of everything going on in our lives, I had opted out of inviting children from their class at school to the party. I just didn't want to risk having strangers' kids in my house should something have gone awry. I was glad I made that decision after the incident with James, but still, it wasn't fair to my babies.

"I'm sorry, baby," I whispered so that only he could hear me. "But, hey, Kellan should be here any time now."

His beautiful eyes lit up. "Really?"

I nodded. "Yep." I was interrupted by Tanya as I stood up from my son.

"Hey Bella." She walked over to me, wrapping me in a warm hug. "Are you doing okay? I just heard about the break-in," she whispered the last part. I stiffened, but nodded.

"I'm fine. Thank you," I said politely. "Your little girl is gorgeous. She looks just like you."

Tanya beamed back at me, then looked down at Robby, who was – of course – smitten instantly by the beautiful strawberry-blonde. "Well, this little man is the spitting image of his momma," she grinned at him. The side of Robby's mouth curled up, his nose twitching as he stared wide-eyed at her. I had to laugh. It reminded me too much of Mowgli from Disney's The Jungle Book. "Hey," Tanya looked back at me. "I also came in here to let you know that Edward is here." She winked at me, obviously seeing my face light up like a Christmas tree. "Tell him I'm thinking about him," she added, looking worried. "I hope she's okay," she whispered.

"I will," I said, giving her a quick hug, heading into the living room. When I saw him, I almost broke down in tears, but I held them back. He was talking to Emmett, Nicci and Garrett – Alice was hanging around him as well. He looked so completely worn out that my heart fractured even more for him. I walked straight up to him as he watched me with weary eyes, and pulled him into me, holding him close. Everyone seemed to take the hint. Emmett told him he'd catch him later and everyone dissipated.

"Hey, baby," he whispered in my ear, sending butterflies fluttering through my body. I didn't want to let him go, but I was certain Kellan was feeling a bit awkward standing there while I clung to his father, so I let go of him long enough to greet his son.

"Hi Kellan!" I tried to sound as chipper as possible, given the circumstances. "I'm so glad you were able to come. The twins are so excited, especially Robby." He smiled, a little sadly, and nodded. God, I didn't know what else to say to him. Did I bring up Kendyll or just avoid it? I didn't have much experience with the whole 'your friend/soon-to-be sister is in the hospital deathly ill' scenario. I looked up at Edward with worry. Edward smiled at me and nodded encouragingly.

"Little man, did you know Uncle Emmett is here?" Kellan shook his head, but smiled a little wider. "Why don't you go put those gifts with the others and see if Robby wants to hang out?"

Kellan nodded. He looked up at me, clearing his throat. "Um, thank you for inviting me, Bella. Kendyll…well, she was gonna come, but she's…sick."

My heart sank as I looked down at him and tried to clear the lump from my throat. I cupped his cheek. "It's okay, and you're very welcome, Kellan, always."

Edward leaned down and hugged his son, whispering something in his ear, which Kellan nodded again in response to. "I'll see you later tonight, okay little man? Love you." Kellan nodded. He smiled at me sheepishly, no doubt a little embarrassed by his dad's blatant declaration of love, and hurried off into the living room. I threw myself back into Edward's arms. He hugged me tightly.

"How are you?" I asked, looking up at him with concern.

"I'm okay," he sighed, the dark circles under his eyes glaring examples of his exhaustion.

"You didn't sleep at all, did you?" I tried not to sound as chiding as I wanted to.

"A couple hours," he admitted. I couldn't say anything. After all, that was all I'd slept, wasn't it?

"How is she?" I was almost afraid to ask.

Surprisingly, he smiled. "She woke up this morning actually feeling better. Eating, joking with me, telling me I worry too much like she always does. She's amazing, Bella. As sick as she was, I couldn't believe it this morning." He sighed exasperatedly.

"That's great, right?" I asked, watching his expression grow dark again.

He nodded. "Yes, but we still don't know what's going on with her. And her fever is down, but it's not gone. They're pumping her full of antibiotics, fluids to keep her hydrated, and they're still running tests." I laced my fingers through his as he continued. "It could be anything, you know?" he stated. I nodded. "I just wish we knew. I mean, it could be a residual infection from the accident, from the hospital itself; it could be a new infection. I hope we get those records soon. They can't do anything but help. Carlisle even tried to mention…" he trailed off, his jaw clenching repeatedly.

"What, Edward?" I said, touching his face.

He blew out a trembling breath. "He wants me to prepare for the possibility of c-cancer."

"Oh no," I gasped, my fingertips covering my mouth quickly.

"But that's not what it is." He shook his head. "It's not, I know it."

I nodded, trying to think positively for him.

"Listen, baby, I…need to get back there. I'm sorry. I just…want to be there for her, if they find something out."

"Okay," I whispered.

"I can come get Kellan whenever," he offered. "Just let me know."

I told him to take his time. A few hours would be fine and even then, Kellan could stay as long as he needed to. He leaned down and kissed me fiercely, making my knees go weak, before I watched him get in his car and head back to the hospital. Thank God, Emmett had apparently not told him about the incident with James. I knew Edward wouldn't have been able to deal with that. Emmett knew it too. He was an amazing friend.

A couple hours passed without incident, and the party was in full swing. Charlie and Jasper finally showed up – both apologizing for having to work so late – Charlie still in his uniform complete with gun and Taser. The kids were fascinated immediately.

"Dad," I groaned. "Really? I'm not trying to get anyone electrocuted today!" He rolled his eyes at me as he held the Taser in front of the kids, letting them study it with wide eyes.

"Don't touch it," he instructed. "Bells, it's fine! Nobody's getting electrocuted. Let the kids have a little learning experience before they get all hopped up on cake and punch."

"Well, can you at least put your nine away? I don't want you 'bussin' a cap' in anyone today, Officer Friendly." I rolled my eyes right back at him.

"No way, Bells. I can't risk someone getting a hold of this thing. It stays on my hip, nice and secure."

"Wonderful," I snapped.

Just as we were cutting the cake, after a very loud, off-key rendition of 'Happy Birthday to You,' there was a knock at the door. A part of me hoped it was Edward, but I knew better. The other part was alarmed. Everyone I loved was here, besides Edward, so this knock seemed out of place and ominous. I walked with trepidation to the door, looking behind me to see Charlie following closely. I sighed a little in relief. Once I got there, before I could look through the peephole, I heard arguing.

"I knocked because it's polite, Jake! You don't have a key anyway because you're not supposed to be here. I'm doing you a favor!" It was Sam's voice. I recognized it immediately and I sighed, instantly pissed off, looking back at Charlie. "It's Jake and Sam."

"Well he's not supposed to be here," Captain Obvious said. "Want me to get rid of him?" he grinned wryly, his mustache twitching.

I sighed again, thinking about it. "No," I decided, frustrated as hell at the relentlessness of this asshole. Seriously I just wanted him the fuck out of my life, but obviously that wasn't going to happen. "Because if the kids get wind of this – and they will; knowing Jake, he'd tell them I kicked him out of their party – they would be devastated. I just...Dad, I don't want to play into his game." Charlie nodded in acquiesce. "But he stays away from Kellan, and he leaves when you leave, if not before," I added, to which he nodded again.

I opened the door with a huff. "Jake, what the hell are you doing h—" My words caught in my throat as I saw who else was standing with him besides Sam. Leah. And not just Leah. Her hand was closed protectively around that of the little boy who could've been a clone of Jacob. I stared in shock; my hand gripped the doorknob tightly as I looked between the four of them utterly dumbfounded. Leah stared back wide eyed, and Jacob smiled as if this wasn't the most fucked up situation ever imagined.

"Hey, Bella," Sam started. My eyes shifted to him quickly and narrowed, cutting his words off.

"Don't speak. Surely you're aware that you're breaking the law, Detective?" I hissed, pushing the door open to allow them entrance. Once they were in, Jacob actually had the balls to think he could hug me. I dodged it, glaring at him, and then leveled a cold stare on Leah, who stood awkwardly, not speaking. I took a deep breath, blew it out slowly, and knelt down to little Seth.

"Hi, Boo-Boo," I smiled warmly at him. He smiled back, leaning into his mother. "I'm so happy to see you again. The kids are going to be so excited. If it's okay with your mom, why don't you go and get some cake in the kitchen, it's that way," I pointed. "We just started."

He looked up at Leah, who nodded her head, giving silent permission. When Seth trotted off, I stood, turning to Jake with a furious glare.

"You know you're not fucking allowed here, Jacob! And then you go and bring her and that little boy? Knowing I wouldn't be able to turn him away? You're disgusting!" It really was a low blow...and effective tactic on his part. If I hadn't been so damned pissed, I would've said 'well played.'

"I just want to see my kids, Bella," he said mockingly, "Besides, I thought the twins might want to spend time with their brother." My nostrils flared. I was boiling because he was so...full...of...shit.

"Is that right? What happened to 'Oh, Leah only wants my money; the kid isn't really mine,' Jake?"

He shrugged. "We worked some stuff out."

"Oh, I bet you did," I snapped. Like I gave a shit who he did anymore.

"I'm sorry, Bella, he said you said this was okay."

I snapped my head in Leah's direction, making her jump. "He did?" I sneered. "Well here's a tip, Leah. Nothing that comes out of his mouth is the truth. But I guess you'll figure that out soon enough, won't you?" My tone was harsh, but I couldn't give a shit. Holding back from screaming like I wanted to so much was taking all my strength and making my throat burn. "And I'm allowing you to stay for the kids' sake only, so don't think for one second that you'll ever be welcome in my home."

She flinched, looking over at Jake with chagrin. "M-maybe we should just go."

"Oh no!" I laughed a little hysterically, losing my composure. "Don't do that on my account. Make yourselves at fucking home!"

Jacob shook his head as if he was embarrassed by my behavior, which made me want to punch him in the throat.

"Um, I'm just going to see about Seth," Leah muttered, quickly walking away, leaving me to glower at my ex.

Seconds later, Alice stomped in, hands on her hips, mouth twisted into a snarl. "You have got to be fucking kidding me!" she nearly shouted. I groaned, scrubbing my face with my hands. "You're just a glutton for punishment, aren't you, Jacob?" She said his name like a curse. "Idiot."

Jake growled, clenching his fists and his jaw as he leveled a murderous glare on her.

"Alice," I took her by the shoulders. "Please...go help the kids finish up with the cake so we can get presents started?"

"You're not letting him stay, are you?" she asked incredulously.

"I don't want a scene in front of the kids," I explained, my eyes pleading with her. "Now could you please go?"

She stared between us for several long seconds before finally huffing out a breath and crossing her arms over her chest. "Fine," she spat, spinning around, griping as she stomped away. "I'll clean up. It's not like I decorated the whole damned house or anything."

Jacob laughed. I whipped around, pointing at him. "Why did you have to come here and start all this bullshit, Jake?"

"Me? Please. It's not my fault you and your family are certifiable, Bella."

"Fuck you," I hissed.

He smirked. "Any time you want, Sweetheart."

"You make me sick," I muttered with disgust.

"Whatever. I'm gonna go see my kids." He started to step around me, when I heard squealing laughter coming our way.

"You are evil, little ninja, and you must be destroyed!" I heard Emmett bellow. My son rounded the corner at break-neck speed, laughing, only to be caught by Jacob, who was glaring in the direction he heard Emmett's voice.

"Dad!" he shouted excitedly.

"What's up, buddy? Happy birthday party day," Jake replied, still glaring ahead, hardly paying attention to his son. It pissed me off even more.

"Robby, why don't you go get the other kids. We're gonna start presents." He fist-pumped with a "Woohoo!" and ran to the kitchen.

Emmett barreled around the same corner moments later with a huge smile in his face, but stopped dead in his tracks, standing up to his full, intimidating height, glowering at Jacob.

"Oh great," Jake admonished, rolling his eyes.

"Well this party just took a hard left into the twilight zone. Thought you weren't allowed here, Jackass," Emmett sneered, baiting him.

"Still my house," Jacob retorted, his tone acidic. "I go where I want, McDickhead."

I stood in between them quickly, holding my arms out. "Enough!" I spat. "Not happening around the kids!"

I spent the next exhausting hour keeping one eye on the kids opening their presents, and another on Jake, Emmett and Alice, who couldn't seem to stop mudslinging (unbeknownst to the kids, thank God) long enough to let the tension dissipate. Each time Emmett mentioned New Year's Eve and what an amazing time it was, Jacob's fists clenched. Alice's retort that 'they all knew what was going to happen while the ink was still drying' was nearly the straw that broke the camel's back as Jacob huffed loudly through his nose like a bull getting ready to charge. I was surprised his head didn't explode. I was in hell. And all the while, I was trying to keep the mood light for the kids, trying to take pictures, and debating on whether I should call Edward to tell him the asshole was here.

I knew I needed to. I knew he was going to be furious, but I also knew he was dealing with so much with Kendyll and I didn't want to upset him further. Kellan seemed oblivious to Jake. Jake hardly looked at Kellan, though when he did, the disdain was clearly on his face at the fact that Edward's son was here. Kellan did glance at him curiously a couple times, as if Jake looked vaguely familiar or something, but he didn't seem bothered in the least.

When the last present had been opened and the kids were admiring them, laughing animatedly as they played together, I decided I couldn't hold out anymore. I walked over to Charlie, asking him to keep an eye on everyone, to keep Jake away from Kellan, and stepped into the kitchen where I took a deep breath, blew it out slowly, and dialed Edward's number.

"Hey baby," he crooned. "How's the party going?"

"Hey," I answered, smiling a little despite my anxiety. "How is everything? How's Kendyll?" Blatantly, I avoided his question.

"She's sleeping. Uh, still...still pretty much the same." There was something in his tone I didn't like. He wasn't telling me something. "How's my boy doing? Driving you crazy yet?"

"No, he's—"

"But..." he interrupted me, chuckling softly.

I decided to just dive in. "No, it's just that...well, you know this wasn't expected at all, but..." I sighed. "Jacob showed up. He's here."

Silence fell over the line. My heart pounded as I waited and waited for his response. I started worrying that he'd hung up.

"Hello? Edward?"

"Keep him away from my son." His tone was cold.

"I have, I swear, Edward. They have had no interaction at all," I answered quickly.

"How long has he been there?" he demanded.

"Only about an hour or so," I said grimacing.

"Only an hour or so?" There was the fury I was dreading. "My son has been in the same house as that asshole for an hour and you haven't called me?"

"Edward, he's been fine. I promise you; he's having fun. Charlie, Emmett and Jasper are here. Do you think they...I would let anything happen to him?"

"I don't give a shit, Bella! You should've called me sooner!"

My stomach dropped to my feet. I hadn't expected him to be this angry. "I'm sorry, baby, you're right. I should have. I didn't want to worry you."

"Worry me?" he repeated flatly. "This is my son! I'm coming to get him. Now."

"No, Edward," I pleaded, "he's having fun. Please let him stay a while. Jacob won't be here much longer."

It took me a moment to realize he'd already hung up. I sat in a chair with my head in my hands. Once I composed myself, I went back and instructed the kids to take their gifts up to their rooms. I didn't say anything about Edward coming because I didn't want to announce it in front of Jake, but Alice caught my demeanor, looking at me with concern. The twins of course grumbled about it but with the other three helping, they finished in a couple trips. Once the last gift had disappeared up the stairs, and the kids were all happily playing in the respective rooms, I received a text.

I'm here. Not coming to the door. Bring me my son.

I sighed, hating that he was so upset with me, typing back quickly.

I want to talk to you first.

Within seconds, my phone vibrated.

Bella I'm tired. Nothing to talk about. Just bring Kellan to me.

Well this was going to suck because I wasn't about to do that. He had to know I didn't do any of this on purpose. I walked quietly down the hall past the living room, only to be stopped suddenly by my curious sister.

"What's up, baby sis?" She asked, eyeing me intently.

I looked behind her stealthily, noting no one else around at the moment, so I explained.

"Edward is outside. He knows Jake's here and he's pissed. He'll hardly talk to me, but I have to explain this to him."

"Shiiiiiit," she whispered on her breath.

"Yeah, shit. Stay in here," I ordered. Don't say anything." She gestured buttoning her lip as I walked to the door.

When Edward saw me coming sans Kellan, he got out of his car, slammed the door and shook his head as he crossed his arms over his chest. He looked so tired, haggard even, and intensely angry. I gulped, squaring my shoulders defiantly as I approached him.

"Why can't you, just one time, not be so goddamned stubborn and do what I ask?" he barked.

"Because I need you to let me explain," I said, staring up at his tumultuous jade eyes.

"I don't want a fucking explanation right now, Bella. I just want my son and I want to take him the fuck home!"

"Edward, please...listen to me." I tried to touch him, his arm, but he jerked away from me. I stared at him in shock. Seeing beyond the anger in his eyes to the hurt that was so obviously there made my insides twist. "He just showed up! I told him he wasn't allowed here, but Sam brought him. And...and he brought Leah, and that little boy because he knew I wouldn't throw them out...not if they had little Seth with them. And...and I didn't want this huge, dramatic scene with the twins here." He sighed, running his hands through his hair, gripping tightly. I knew I was rambling, but I needed to get it all out before he exploded on me again. I had to make him understand. "I'm sorry I didn't call you sooner, but I really didn't want you to worry. You-you've got so much you're dealing with, I—"

"Bella stop," he snapped, shaking his head. "Just stop. Don't you see that it's a fucking game to him?" He pulled his hands from his hair, slapping the back of his right hand into the palm of his left repeatedly. "Everything he does...every fucking thing he's all a game! Just to get to you. Just to do this to you! And I'm tired. Of playing. His fucking. Game!" I nodded, knowing every word of that was true. I was beyond tired of the game as well. "How long is this shit going to go on? When we're old and gray is he still going to be coming around causing fucking drama? I can't deal with this shit right now. Could you just please go get Kellan. I can't..." He shook his head again, his jaw clenching and flexing. He did let me touch him this time, though, and when I placed my hand on his arm gently, he covered it with his, staring into my eyes with despair in his.

"Baby, what is it? Tell me what's going on...besides this." I gestured toward the house.

He blew out a shuddering breath, pulling in another and seeming to hold it for a beat. "Kendyll...might have leukemia." His voice cracked. My stomach dropped to the floor and my heart lodged in my throat. "I don't...know what to to tell Kellan...they're still testing to find out for sure…and if so, what kind it is but..."

"Oh God, Edward, I'm so sorry," I choked out the words. "What can I do?"

He began to shake his head again when we both heard the door slam. Edward's entire body tensed as I whipped around to see Jacob standing on the porch glaring.

"You need to leave!" Jacob snarled.

"No!" I marched toward the porch, pointing at him. "You leave, Jacob! You aren't welcome here! He is! I love him!"

"You love him. Right." Jake rolled his eyes then glared in Edward's direction. "Too bad he doesn't love you; he's going to hurt you again."

"That's where you're wrong, asshole!" Edward shouted.

I kept my angry eyes focused on Jake. "I'd rather him hurt me a thousand times over than have you in my life for one more second!"

Jake's eyes flashed with hurt, then rage. It disturbed me, like something snapped inside him.

"Man, I just want my son...and I want to go home. You win today, Jacob," Edward said. God, I hated how defeated he sounded.

Even feeling the rage emanating from his body didn't quell my anger toward Jake. I shoved him with all my might. "Go inside! Get your little posse, and get the hell out of here!"

Surprisingly, he did go inside. But not before growling something under his breath about it 'not being over.'

Oh, it was over alright.

I walked back over to Edward, placing my hands on his face and pulling him down for an intense, yet gentle kiss. There was nothing sexual about it; I just wanted him to know without a doubt that I was his and no one else's.

I held onto his jaw, my fingers drawing soothing circles on his scalp. "I'm so sorry, Edward," I breathed. "Are you okay?" He nodded, the storm still raging in his eyes. "I love you so much, Edward."

"I love you too," he whispered. "But I need to go before something else happens."

I understood completely, but the question still weighed heavy on my mind. "Okay, I'll go get Kellan. Are...are we okay?"

He studied my face for a moment before he finally sighed. "Yes, always." That was all I needed to hear.

I rushed into the house and, before going up to get Kellan, decided to head to the kitchen. I cut a large piece of cake for Edward, set it on a paper plate and, as I was covering it with cellophane, Alice came in, proceeding to ask me what the hell was going on. I explained quickly, saying I had to get Kellan before another blow-up occurred, and left her standing perplexed in the kitchen. On my way to the stairs, I brushed past Sam, who was eyeing me questioningly.

"You're leaving, now," I hissed. "Get him the fuck out of here, Sam." Not giving him a chance to respond, I marched up the stairs. I took several calming breaths as I watched all the kids, who had gathered in Robby's room to play together. I watched Kellan, laughing and acting as a leader to the younger kids. I felt so incredibly sad. Wondering how he was going to react when he found out just how sick Kendyll was. It broke my heart. I heard a slight commotion downstairs, but figured it was Jake and Emmett...or Alice and Jake, and honestly, I didn't care anymore. Just as I was about to interrupt the kids and tell Kellan his dad was here, I felt a hand on my arm. I whirled around, prepared to tell Jake to fuck off forever, but stopped as soon as I saw it was Renee. The look on her face...unadulterated fear...made my stomach tie up in knots.

"What is it?" I whispered

She pulled me away from the door. "It's Jake. He...he has a gun..." As soon as she said 'gun' it felt as if all the blood drained from my body. My head pounded. I felt weak all over, and I was unable to breathe. "And..." her eyes filled up with tears. "He's outside...with Edward."

"No," I whimpered, grabbing onto my mother for support. My mind reeled. A thousand thoughts at once. My heart thundered in my chest. This was not happening. It was not happening! "Take the kids in my room," I ordered mechanically. "Shut and lock the door. Turn on a movie...something loud and do not come out." She nodded quickly as I raced away.

I tore down the stairs to the door, pushing people out of my way frantically. Everything and everyone was a blur. I was vaguely aware of someone trying to stop me, but I couldn't stop. I wouldn't stop. I ripped open the front door, stumbling onto the stairs, and... The scene before me nearly brought me to my knees.

With all the strength I had in me, I screamed.

'"NO, Jacob! STOP!"



Send away for a priceless gift…One not open; one not on the list…

You know, if there was one thing I was certain of in my entire existence on this planet, it was that the universe never ceased to throw me a motherfucking curve ball every now and then. Lately, it seemed that curve ball was coming at me more and more often.

If I had let myself think about it too much...let myself wonder why I'd started out making earth-fucking-shattering, amazing love to the most important woman in my life – in my fucking bathtub, no less – and then suddenly found myself holding this beautiful little girl in my arms, who'd been through more in her short lifetime than anyone should've had to endure in a thousand, while she seized violently from the inferno of a fever that overcame her...

If I let myself wonder why in the fuck I found myself watching helplessly as nurses fluttered around, cutting off the cast from her still-healing arm in order to have enough veins to stick for IV's, blood samples and fluid intake, placing cooling blankets on her, buzzing around when she seized again because the fucking fever was trying to kill her right in front of me...

If I let myself wonder why I found myself sitting here, holding the hand of this beautiful, precious little creature, praying to whoever the fuck would listen to just give her a chance to live for Christ's sake! And feeling absolutely, one hundred percent helpless, useless because I couldn't stop worrying myself into a frenzy long enough to think like a goddamned doctor. Wishing with every ounce of me that I had Bella here to hold me up, help me get through watching this child, that was almost mine, slip away from me because I just didn't think I could fucking do it by myself.

If I let myself think about why all of that was going on at the same time...well, the bottom line was...

I would've lost...

My motherfucking...


Instead, I had to force myself to realize that this was really happening, and I had to deal with it. I needed to find out what was wrong with her so I could deal with it. Tests were being run. Test after test after test, but it was the middle of the evening on New Year's Day. There was a skeleton crew at best working tonight, let alone in the lab, and on a normal day, any given test took hours or longer – depending on the test – to yield results. The waiting was the worst part; the waiting accompanied by the worry was leaving me delirious.

Send away for a perfect world…one not simply so absurd…

They had her sedated to keep her calm, so they could work to get the fever down to a manageable level…so they could poke and prod at her without scaring the shit out of her. I knew all that; I knew the ins and outs of treating patients with high fevers. And, as I looked at Kendyll, lying there with lines coming out of her arms and monitors beeping, I knew in my brilliant doctor brain that she was fragile, I was just scared as hell to find out how fragile. Even so, I felt it in her little hand; saw it in the dark, purple bruises under her eyes, her slightly sunken cheekbones. And her little stomach, distended like a party balloon.

Party balloon.

I felt horrible that I wasn't going to be able to spend time with Bella and the twins at their party, but I knew she would understand. She had to.

I heard Esme's clothing rustle as she stirred in the loveseat she'd fallen asleep in across the room. Even her soft footfalls echoed in the stark, sterile hospital room.

"How's she doing?" she whispered, placing her hands on my shoulders, massaging gently.

I placed my right hand atop hers – my left still cupped under Kendyll's – and squeezed. "Her vitals look better now," I answered mechanically, not glancing at the machines, but staring at the long eyelashes fanning Kendyll's sweet face.

"How are you?"

I sighed. "I'm...okay," I whispered.

"Edward," she admonished gently. She knew I wasn't okay. Hell, I knew I wasn't okay. I just didn't have time to deal with my own fucking feelings.

"I'm just so worried, Mom," I admitted. "I...I know what...damn it, I can't even say it." I sighed as Esme's hand moved in languid circles on my back. "I know what...that...looks like, and it looks like this."

My mother was silent for a moment as she continued her effort of comforting me. I heard her intake of breath amongst the beeping of the machines as she began to speak again.

"Honey, why don't you take a break, just for a few minutes?" I started to protest, but she cut me off. "Edward, you're exhausted. I'm exhausted and I got a little bit of sleep. How about you go grab us a coffee? Your old mom could use a little pick-me-up."

"Mom, you're not old," I chuckled humorlessly.

"Also, maybe you could see if your dad's around, if he has an update?"

I scrubbed my face with my hands, knowing that arguing with her was futile. I did need to get up and stretch, get away from this stark hospital room if only for a few minutes, and I figured it would be nice to find out something...any-fucking-thing would suffice.

In these times of doing what you're told…keep these feelings no one knows…

As I exited the elevator and headed toward the first floor cafeteria, a flash of flaming red hair through the crowd caught my attention. I shrugged my curiosity off as whoever the red head was turned down a corridor at the end of the hallway.

The cafeteria was bustling as it was the middle of the evening in a very busy hospital, so it took quite a while for me to get through the line just for two plain cups of coffee.

Many of my colleagues approached me while I was waiting, anxious to get back to Kendyll's side, worried about Kellan, thinking about Bella, and everything else that was weighing on my fucked up mind. Some weren't aware of the grave situation I found myself in, so reluctantly, I explained to those who didn't know. I got the typical condolences, well-wishes, 'you're in my thoughts and prayers,' statements, and even though they meant well and I appreciated it, none of it made me feel any better.

Whatever happened to the young man's heart? Swallowed by pain, as he slowly fell apart…

One colleague in particular, whom I'd known from my stint in internal medicine, Dr. Nahuel Ramirez, had a little more to add to his well-wishes. He told me a new hire, a nurse, had been asking around about me. He wanted to let me know, he said, in case she was an old friend. He couldn't remember the name of this nurse, but when I asked what she looked like, he grinned wryly.

"Well she doesn't look like your average, every day nurse if you know what I mean."

"Not really, no." Realizing I was next in line and wanting to get back to the sixth floor, I shook my head. I didn't mean to be short with him, but I really didn't have fucking time for this shit.

"She's...I don't know, too sexy for a nurse, I guess."

Well that narrowed it down. And I wasn't sure where the hell he'd been his whole career, because I had been around many a nurse in mine, and there were plenty of sexy women who'd chosen that career path. Not that I had any of them, as my Neanderthal best friend liked to think. I had been too into my self-loathing after ruining my relationship with Bella by fucking Victoria, that I punished myself with two other women, both of whom were loathsome. But I always tried as much as possible to keep things strictly professional at work.


Suddenly the shock of red hair I'd seen earlier entered my mind, as well as something Emmett had said almost two months prior. I'd almost forgotten, but I remembered how absurd it sounded when he mentioned Victoria and nursing school in the same sentence. I felt a slight wave of nausea as I asked him to describe this mystery nurse.

"Well let's see," Doctor Ramirez began, smirking a little. "Decent height; long, really red hair, not the carrot-top red, but that sort of darker, deep; blue eyes; gorgeous face and pretty bangin' body." He chuckled. "She wears her scrubs a little too tight if ya ask me, but I'm not saying it isn't nice to look at. Sort of strange, though, as pretty as she is, there's something about her that just screams 'bad girl,' if that makes any sense."

Oh, it made perfect fucking sense.

I gritted my teeth. "Is her name Victoria?" I really didn't want him to answer that.

He thought for a moment, finally raising his eyebrows in recognition. "I'm sure that's right. She called herself Vickie, but I guess it's safe to assume that's short for Victoria. So, you do know her?"

My fucking stomach dropped to my knees. I didn't know why I was so goddamned surprised, though. I knew she wouldn't just up and leave...or leave me alone. No, she was that kind of psycho.

"Yeah, I know her," I answered gravely. "And a word of advice...stay away from her, man, she's poison." He laughed a little but quickly sobered when he saw that I was as serious as a goddamned heart attack.

"That bad, huh?" he asked.

I nodded. "Worse. Also, the child I told you about, Kendyll? Vickie is to know nothing about her, okay?"

"Yeah, okay, man." Doctor Ramirez clapped me on the shoulder as I turned with two coffees in hand and strode away.

Maybe it's not her, I thought to myself. There were plenty of red-headed women out there who could be deemed sexy...though that word was subjective and I found nothing sexy about Victoria anymore. Sadistic and diabolical,, absolutely not. Of course, what were the odds of a random redhead, bearing a shortened version of my past demon's name and asking staff about me? Fuck. It's not her. But deep down in my gut, I fucking knew better.

As I was nearing the elevators, the same shock of red hair I'd seen earlier caught my attention again, this time coming toward me. The crowd in front of me slowly dissipated; I pressed the up arrow, staring at the numbers above the elevator, willing it to hurry the hell up, when I happened to glance over and saw her face. Her bright red lips were curled into a knowing smirk as her cold blue eyes locked with mine. My hackles went up instantly. I had to talk myself out of squeezing the shit out of the foam coffee cups in my hand in an effort to avoid scalding myself. My eyes narrowed; my nostrils flared, and my lip curled over my teeth as a snarl I wasn't even expecting escaped on its own. A few curious sets of eyes glanced in my direction as I tried with all my might to contain my disgust. Fucking perfect. She was making her way toward me when I heard the ding of the elevator.

And I'm staring down the barrel of a 45…

"Fuck," I muttered under my breath, weaving through the exiting passengers to duck into the vehicle of my escape as quickly as humanly possible.

What. The. Fuck...was she doing here? Never mind that, what the fuck was she doing working here? Of all the hospitals in the greater Chicago fucking area she had to pick this one. Of course she did. Like I told Nahuel, she was that kind of psycho. I mean, was it too much for me to ask to have just one less thorn in my goddamned side? Apparently it was, because as I took a detour to Carlisle's floor and entered his office after getting nerve-wracking sympathetic looks from his staff – I found him hanging up the phone, sighing heavily, and rubbing his temples. I cleared my throat, startling him a little and sitting down in one of the chairs facing his desk.

"You startled me, son, I wasn't expecting to see you in here."

"I'm sorry," I said sincerely, holding up the coffees and trying out a grin. I was positive it turned out more like a grimace. "Mom ordered coffee."

He nodded, a small smile playing on his pursed lips. "I think she just wanted you to take a break. She hasn't drunk coffee in years. Unless it's one of those frozen cappuccino things."

I laughed for the first time all afternoon, setting the coffees on his desk. Hoodwinked by my mother...typical.

"I would venture to guess that she sent you in here as well, but I think I know better than that," he added.

"She suggested it, but no. I came here on my own." Carlisle nodded, knowingly. I glanced at his phone, then back at him. "So, is there something I need to know? About Kendyll? Who was on the phone?"

He sighed, eyeing me strangely before sucking in a breath to speak. "That call wasn't about Kendyll."

"Oh," I muttered, unable to hide my disappointment.

"Actually, that was, uh, Rosalie."

Swimming through the ashes of another life…

"Rosalie?" I snapped. Panic set in suddenly. "Is it Kellan? What's wrong?" If something happened to my boy, I...well I didn't know what I would do.

"No, it's nothing like that," he answered quickly with hands raised and a shaking head, understanding that panic mode was the only mode I seemed to be running on lately. "But she was...crying." he grimaced. That struck me as interesting. Rosalie Hale did not cry. She was as stone cold a bitch as they came; her display of emotion normally consisted of snide comments and anger...not tears. Yeah, it was safe to say that I was utterly fucking perplexed. Until he continued...and I realized just exactly what was going on.

"Apparently, she was served the other day. Your custody papers?" I knew what he was talking about the minute he said 'served.' I knew it was coming soon, and if I was being honest, I was shocked I hadn't received at least a phone call from her ranting and raving, succubus style. "Well," Carlisle went on, eyeing me carefully, "naturally she's a little upset." I opened my mouth to accuse him in no uncertain terms of taking her side, but he held his hand up to stop me. "I know what you're going to say, son, and I'm not taking her side here..." Jesus, I needed to work on my poker face. I was definitely slipping lately. "She just said that she loves her son more than anything in this world and didn't want to lose him."

"Oh, how dramatic of her," I retorted sardonically. My father frowned at me disapprovingly, so I waved him on.

"Anyway, she wanted to see if I'd talk to you. She said she's afraid to and doesn't think it would do any good."

"Well, for once, she's right," I muttered.

"Edward," he chided.

"So is that what you're doing? Trying to get me to back off?" I snapped, already feeling betrayed by him for even entertaining such a fucking idea.

"Not at all, Edward," he said quietly, massaging his temples.

"Because she is very good at manipulation, Carlisle, and quite frankly, she knows she can get under your soft skin." I recalled the time she showed up here asking him for money as if she and my son were starving. It pissed me the hell off.

He looked momentarily annoyed. "That's not fair, Edward."

"Well, Carlisle, you've given her money because of nothing more than her manipulation, and now this," I hissed, leaning forward. "Were you aware that she never really wanted Kellan in the first place? He was her fucking meal ticket! You probably also weren't aware that, for first month of his life, she refused to hold him when he cried. That she wouldn't change his diaper or feed him? No you didn't, because I never told anyone!"

He visibly blanched, but cleared his throat. "Well maybe it was postpartum depression. It's very common—"

"Carlisle, stop," I cut him off. "Don't insult my intelligence. I'm an OB-GYN. I know what postpartum depression is, and hindsight is twenty-twenty, trust me. She was so depressed that she was constantly running out, spending money that I was barely making at the time!" My fucking blood was boiling recalling those memories, but I refrained from yelling at him like I wanted to, and shaking some sense into him. He was too goddamned good...too righteous...and he fell for her bullshit every time. It was maddening.

His expression turned apologetic. "I'm sorry Edward, I didn't mean to insult you. And I am somewhat aware of her less than stellar parenting style. I just wanted to relay to you what she said and see where you stood on it. I can see now."

I sat silent for a moment, pondering. "You know what? I would be willing to back off if she would make a hell of an effort to spend time with Kellan, instead of shipping him off to her mother's every time he's in her care." I clenched my jaw. "And if she would stop seeing James...and lying about it, or having my son lie for her."

Carlisle's eyebrows raised in surprise. I could've sworn I told him at some point about Rose and James, but my memory when it came to the succubus was diminishing as quickly as my patience with her. "But I know with a hundred and fifty percent certainty Rosalie will be Rosalie; she would change long enough to pacify me briefly, and then she would go back to practically ignoring him. I can't have that shit, Carlisle." I shook my head, leveling my eyes on him so that he would know this wasn't about some sort of spite on my part.

He didn't say anything more on the subject, and a silence fell on us for a short time. Finally I sighed, adjusting uncomfortably in the chair I was sitting. I was still a little bit annoyed that he would even entertain Rosalie's melodramatics and I was pretty sure he knew it. Carlisle glanced up from his laptop, eyeing me briefly, and then returned to his typing. The sound was grating on my nerves.

No real reason to accept the way, things have changed…

"So, uh, you were still in surgery when she came in?" I asked, hoping like hell he would just stop...fucking...typing and talk to me.

He glanced up again, his expression unreadable, nodded, and focused again on his typing. I pressed my fingers into my temples to relieve the pounding in my head. "How did it turn out?"

"What?" He looked up again, eyebrows raised.

"The surgery; your patient?" It was my awkward attempt at trying to be calm, ease the tension, when I really just wanted to freak the fuck out. Not to mention, he had to have known I wanted to talk about Kendyll, and I felt like he was stalling. This cryptic, doctor-patient confidentiality shit was not going to fly with me anymore.

"Oh, fine...fine. I was just finishing up the paperwork." He waved toward his laptop. "You know how it is." As soon as he went back to fucking typing, I decided I had enough of beating around the bush.

"Have you heard anything? About the tests? Kendyll's tests?"

He finally stopped typing. Sitting back in his chair, he sighed, steepled his hands under his chin and shook his head. "Not yet. You know these things take time, Edward." I couldn't help but think he wasn't telling me something. I didn't like it one goddamned bit.

"Carlisle, she's my daughter," I blurted without thinking. His eyes widened a little; his jaw went slack for only a split second before he recovered and cleared his throat as if he didn't know how to respond to that. I kind of understood...a little...that reaction, but it still annoyed me because in my heart, she already was. Nonetheless, I amended my statement. "At least she will be soon enough. Don't you think I should at least know what the hell is going on? I'm a doctor, Carlisle, not just some freaked out parent who doesn't understand anything!" Well, I was partly that too, but I digress.

"Then you understand that tests take a little time, Edward." He sighed. There was a weird sense of relief in his demeanor; he seemed more relaxed. Well I wasn't fucking relaxed. Not at all.

"Of course, but there has to be something you can tell me," I huffed.

"There isn't. Look, son, I understand your frustration. I really do..." No, he really didn't. He wasn't there to see her agony and terror as she hung upside down by a thread in that fucking car...begging me to help her and her parents. He didn't see the devastation in her face when she learned that her mom and dad were never coming back. He didn't see the tears, the questions in her eyes that I couldn't answer. He didn't understand what it was like to look into those eyes and tell her the one thing I was sure of...that she would be okay; that I would take care of her. To believe every word of it and then suddenly feel like a fucking liar. Deceived by some illness I couldn't get a grasp on. No, he didn't understand that at all.

"And if there was anything to tell you, I would," Carlisle insisted, breaking me from my thoughts.

"Would you?" I asked quietly.

"Of course. And as soon as I do know something, I will tell you, son." He paused, looking away for a moment. "Doctor O'Neal will know before I do. Kendyll's not really even my patient anymore. The only reason they'll keep me in the loop is because I'm her guardian now, and a board member. Have you tried talking to Lydia?"

"No," I said flatly. "Besides, you just said it yourself. I'm not her guardian." I said the word with disdain.

"But you're family," he offered. Still the idea of talking to Lydia O'Neal left a bad taste in my mouth. Looked as if I didn't have much of a choice, though. So I nodded in silent acquiesce.

"Edward, you've spent a lot of time with her today," he began, leaning forward in his seat. "What do you think?"

"I don't know," I said immediately. All I'd done was wrack my brain while I kept vigil holding her little hand, trying to think of what could have a grip on her so tightly. I'd gone through every childhood illness in my head to try to figure it out. I must've mentally scrolled through the symptoms of a hundred that were Nothing made sense.

Except for one.

One that had many, many variations.

The one that I always seemed to come back to and the one that I put out of my mind every time.

"Are you sure about that?" Carlisle asked. I simply stared at him. "You've worked in many different fields of medicine, Edward, and at your young age, I'm quite proud to say you've excelled in all of them. You're telling me, with all that knowledge, you haven't the slightest idea?"

This time, I leaned forward. He was baiting me...wanting me to say out loud what we both knew was a strong possibility. And I didn't. Fucking. Appreciate it.

"Yes, that is what I'm telling you," I lied methodically. "Do not patronize me, Carlisle."

"Edward," he shook his head, his eyes taking on a sad glint. "At this point, it could be anything. Hopefully, we'll find out tomorrow and hopefully it's nothing..." He was trying to choose his words carefully, I could tell. "Terminal." I clenched my jaw. "But you have to at least consider – as a doctor – that it could be—"

"No!" I stood up quickly, clenching one fist and pointing at my father like a lunatic. "It's not that! That is not what it is!"

Staring down the barrel of a 45…

Carlisle merely sighed – once again – at my outburst and massaged his temples. I suppose he was used to my erratic behavior by now.

"Son, all I'm saying is that you might need to prepare yourself," he murmured. I began to shake my head repeatedly. "If it does turn out to be—"

"Don't say it," I hissed.

"That..." he continued, "It's highly probable that it's treatable."

"Yes. With chemicals or-or surgeries that could possibly kill her! No, I will not prepare myself for that because that's not what it is!"

He stared at me for a moment before finally nodding his head sadly. "Okay, son, I get it."

I relaxed my clenched hand, shaking it out to restore circulation, and ran the other through my hair. I started toward the door because I wasn't having this fucking conversation anymore, but turned suddenly as I remembered my encounter downstairs.

"What do you know about a new hire named Vickie with red hair, a nurse?"

He looked perplexed at first, but then nodded once. "The name does ring a bell. What about her?"

"She's a sick and twisted individual, that's what," I spat, perpetually furious at the nerve of the bitch.

Carlisle furrowed his brow. "What?" Instead of repeating myself, because really, what else was there to say, I watched as he typed quickly on his laptop; his eyebrows raised in recognition.

"Ah yes, Vickie Sutherland. Recently moved here from Seattle; excellent work experience; I remember reviewing her resume. She had impeccable references. She's working shifts in ICU right now."

I rolled my eyes and scoffed. Probably fake references. And God help the poor people in ICU. "The references were called and verified?"

"Of course," he looked at me incredulously.

"Yeah, well her real name is Victoria. She's bff's with James Campbell. I bet that wasn't on her shiny resume. Or the fact that she used to be a prostitute, more or less."

He looked a little shocked, but still shook his head at me. "Edward, what would you like me to do? I can't necessarily fire someone for their poor choice of friends or for turning their life around, now can I?"

Turned her life around? Riiiiight. If only he knew what she was involved in. Victoria wasn't something I was ever proud of, so my parents never knew of her, only that I'd lost Bella because of my own stupidity.

I sighed. "I don't want her knowing anything about me...or Kendyll. Please just tell all of your staff that?"

"Fine, Edward, but if she gets assigned to peds, I can't do much about it," he said, thoroughly exasperated by me.

"I'll make sure she doesn't," I replied snidely.

"You know you can't do that without cause."

"Watch me," I snarled under my breath as I shut the door to his office behind me.


Send a message to the unborn child…keep your eyes open, for a while…

On my way back to Kendyll, I stopped at the front desk of the peds unit before heading to pediatric ICU, where she lay sedated. I gave the young, doe-eyed nurse at the station a brief description of Victoria, and told her to spread the word that under no circumstances was Victoria Sutherland to come anywhere near my...near Kendyll. She agreed, given the authority in my tone, and I moved on to the PICU, where I gave the same instructions. That nurse wasn't nearly as young or doe-eyed as the first one, requesting a written order from the chief of pediatric medicine – which I knew I wasn't going to fucking get – so I did my best to flirt. I tried to give her my best sexy eyes; tried to dazzle her with my smile; told her she'd be doing me a personal favor and I would be indebted to her. It seemed to work as she agreed valiantly, although I did worry a little about the whole indebtedness thing given the way she was looking at me by the time I was finished.

As I approached Kendyll's room, I noticed a couple of nurses coming out. That struck me as odd since usually only one at a time went in to check her vitals. But then a third one came out. This one was pushing a crash cart. Panic gripped me instantly. My knees felt weak as I rushed into the room, heart pounding, stopping dead in my tracks when I saw Esme leaning down to kiss Kendyll's forehead and nodding at a male doctor I didn't recognize.

"What's going on? Is she okay?" I blurted, marching toward them and glaring at the machines attached to my little girl. Everything seemed to be okay, which was good, but I was thoroughly confused and still panicking.

"Oh! Edward," Esme seemed a little startled by my sudden demanding presence. "Everything is fine now, honey, she's okay," she continued quickly.

I stared at my mother for a second, my breaths slowing, my heart rate calming, but not enough to relax. "But I saw a crash cart! What happened?" I eyed the mystery doctor precariously – looked to be about the same age as Carlisle, early to mid-fifties, graying brown hair, thin on top, wire-rimmed glasses with kind eyes behind them, medium build but not as tall as me – until Esme piped up again.

"Edward, this is Doctor Moore. Doctor Moore is a pediatric cardiologist. This is my son, Doctor Edward Cullen," she turned her attention back to him.

"Ah, Doctor Cullen." He extended his hand. I reached out automatically and shook it. "Your reputation precedes you. It's a pleasure," he said smiling. "Your father speaks highly of you. He has every reason to be proud."

I wasn't so sure about that. "You know my father?"

He chuckled softly. "Old med school buddies. Your father was quite the gambler back then. Always betting me he'd make better grades. I think I paid more money to him than I did my ex-wife. But, hey, at least it got me to study harder."

I smiled weakly, unable to enjoy the tale of Carlisle's med school days like I wanted to. I was too fucking worried about the sick little girl to my right.

"Uh, she...Kendyll is in my parents' care right now. I'm, uh, in the process of adopting her," I stumbled over my words, hoping I didn't sound like an idiot.

"That's wonderful," he interrupted. "Esme told me a little about it. The poor little thing." He smiled down at Kendyll's sleeping form.

"Yes," I gritted my teeth, trying to keep control. "Can...can you tell me what's going on? What happened with the crash cart? And with all due respect, why does she need a cardiologist? Is there something wrong with her heart?" Mine began to pound again. This just kept getting worse and fucking worse.

"Of course," he answered right away. "And she doesn't really need me, I'm happy to say. That little girl has a strong heart from what I can hear. Her BP took a pretty low dip a few minutes ago. They called me in to make sure. The crash cart was brought in purely as a precaution."

"How low did it get?" I interrupted. He told me the numbers, and I ran a shaking hand through my hair. Shit. I should've been in here!

"I ordered an adjustment in the sedative, so that shouldn't happen again," he continued. I breathed a sigh of relief, silently cursing the fuck out of the anesthesiologist for ordering a little too much for a child Kendyll's size. He could've fucking killed her!

When Doctor Moore left, Esme walked over to me as I stared at Kendyll with bleary eyes. "I'm gonna give you some time alone with her, sweetheart," she murmured, kissing my cheek. "Maybe I'll go bug your father for a while," she mused. "Did you talk to him?"

I nodded. "They don't know anything yet. I...I think it's something bad, Mom," I whispered, my voice cracking slightly.

"Oh honey." She gave me a squeeze. "She's going to be okay; you just have to believe that."

I nodded again.

When she left, I set my coffee and the one that Esme had completely ignored on the counter before walking over and resuming my spot next to Kendyll, taking her little hand in mine.

"Don't do that to me again," I whispered. "You scared me." I turned her hand over gingerly and placed a light kiss on her palm. "You're gonna be okay, baby girl. Everyone's here for you. Everyone loves you. I love you. We're gonna find out what this is, and were gonna get you better. And you're gonna help us, right, sweetheart?" I looked at her closed eyelids. She looked so peaceful, sleeping like that, even if it was chemically induced. My eyes shifted to her tiny neck. Still swollen as I noticed earlier. It was her lymph nodes. Yet another sign pointing in the wrong direction. I put it out of my mind and focused again on her face, picturing her with her incredible, aqua-colored eyes open, smiling at me and telling me I worried too much. I chuckled humorlessly at that, but emotion gripped my throat.

In a box, high up on a shelf…meant for you, no one else…

"You have to get better, Kendyll, you just have to. can't go anywhere. See, because now that I've almost got you, I can't let you go. I need you. Probably more than you need me." The lump in my throat was getting bigger; I could barely talk through the burning desire to just let my emotions go. But I wanted to be strong for her. " you have to help us, Kendyll. We all need you. Me, Doctor Carlisle, Esme, Kellan. I'm sure he's worried about you and wants to see you. And remember, you still have to meet Bella. She wants to meet you so badly, sweetie, so badly. She told me. And you're gonna love her twins, Robby and Krissy." I smiled thinking about them, but soon my smile fell. I just couldn't seem to hold onto it for very long today.

I pulled her little hand up again, kissing her fingers and taking a ragged breath. My head felt like it weighed a ton. My body felt tattered and worn. And as I laid my forehead on the mattress of her hospital bed, this time I spoke to someone else.

"Just please, let her be okay," I whispered as the quiet tears came. "Don't let it be...that. Just don't let it be that."

There's a piece of a puzzle known as life…wrapped in guilt…sealed up tight…

I must've fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, I was being nudged gently. I sat up like a fucking rocket, my eyes darting around unfocused until they landed on Esme, who I had startled by being startled.

"What happened?" I asked a little deliriously.

"Nothing," she giggled a little. "You just didn't look all that comfortable. There's no change with Kendyll." Her eyes looked a little sad and tired.

I sighed, scrubbed my face with my palms and ran a hand through my hair. "What time is it?"

"It's almost nine o'clock," she murmured, glancing at her watch.

Jesus, two hours? I'd slept for two hours in the most uncomfortable position imaginable. I stood up to stretch.

"Goddamn, my back hurts," I muttered.

"Language, Edward," Esme chided.

"Sorry." I felt a bit like a petulant child, but my goddamned back did hurt. My mother's scolding brought something else to mind and I began to laugh quietly to myself. Esme turned to me with a smile on her face and a quirked eyebrow.

"That sound is nice," she murmured. "What's so funny?"

"Bella's kids have a swear jar."

"A swear jar?" She giggled, shaking her head.

"Yeah, according to Krissy, I owe over a hundred dollars," I replied laughing.

"Edward!" Esme admonished, but there was a smile in her tone. "Please tell me you don't curse in front of those little kids!"

"It was one time, Mom," I chuckled, shaking my head as I thought of how serious Krissy was when she demanded my money. "One slipped out by accident and she nailed me. The kid is a shark!"

Esme smiled lovingly at me. "It sounds like you get along well with them." I nodded in agreement. "Have you talked to Bella tonight?"

I shook my head, grimacing. She probably thought I was avoiding her when all I wanted to do was talk to her. I knew she was worried...about a child she didn't even know...and would have so many questions. I just didn't have answers.

"No, I need to call her. She's probably worried sick. She was with me when I got your call. But I need to call Kellan first."

"Oh, I already talked to him," Esme replied sweetly.

My head snapped in her direction. "You did? What...what did he say? You didn't tell him...everything, did you?"

"Of course not, sweetheart." My own mother rolled her eyes at me. "I just told him that Kendyll is very sick and in the hospital, and that you're here with her." I sighed, knowing the poor kid would probably be tossing and turning tonight with worry. "He said he wants to see her, so I told him I'd pick him up in the morning and bring him here."

"Do you think that's a good idea?" I asked sincerely. I really needed her opinion on this.

"I wouldn't have told him I would if I didn't think it was a good idea," she insisted. I nodded, knowing my boy would persist until he got to see her. It truly was amazing to me how much he already cared about her. I glanced sadly at Kendyll, frail and fragile, realizing that this child was just easy to love.

"And I figured," she continued, "you would rather not see his wretched mother right now, anyway." She shrugged innocently as I smiled at her, walking over to pull her into a hug and kissed the top of her head. Esme was much keener to Rosalie's mind games than Carlisle was. "Now, go call Bella so she can stop worrying." She gave me a squeeze. "Because that little girl over there is going to be just fine. I feel it in my heart, Edward."

Bella's voice was comforting, as it always was. After talking to her, I slipped into the locker room and took a quick shower, changing into some extra scrubs I always had stashed at the hospital. Not wanting to leave Kendyll's side the rest of the night, I laid my head near the foot of her bed and was soon being lulled to sleep by steady beeping of her heart monitor as well as the thoughts of Bella's soothing voice in my head.

A different voice woke me up in the morning. It was one of the most amazing sounds in the world, I decided. Giggles coming out of the mouth of the child I thought I was losing the night before. I was relieved beyond words. When I sat up and stretched my back, groaning loudly because it felt like someone had taken an ax to it, she giggled again.

"You sound like a grizzly bear, Doctor Edward."

I also decided I'd sound like that every day if I got to hear her laugh. She sobered a little after that, asking what was wrong with her. Of course I still didn't have any answers for her, but I told her she gave us a terrible scare the day before and we were going to find out why she got so sick, and we were going to make her all better. That seemed to suffice for the time being, and I almost danced a jig when she said she was hungry. Yeah, I was a happy motherfucker when she ate every last bit of her breakfast—and kept it down.

Esme showed up with Kellan not long after breakfast. I could see the worry on my boy's face, but I reassured him that she was okay and they were able to 'hang out' – they're words, not mine – talking, laughing and watching cartoons, until it was time for me to take Kel to the twin's birthday party. I spent the afternoon playing Uno and Go Fish with Kendyll. She kicked my ass every single fucking time, and I decided one more thing that day…that she was a little card shark and had a very bright future in the World Poker Tournament. She was going to make millions. Since I had talked to Em when I dropped the kid off at the party, of course apologizing to the ass-hat about not filling him in sooner on Kendyll's condition, I figured it was best to call Jazz and let him know. Before I hung up with him, I told him things were looking up with her, though.

Indeed they were looking up. But then Carlisle pulled me into the hallway to tell me what some of the test results revealed. And my hopes crashed to the floor.

Whatever happened to the young man's heart? Swallowed by pain as he slowly fell apart…


I was so happy to hear from Bella; excited to tell her that Kendyll had woken up today, finally feeling at least a little better. She seemed relieved when I told her that, but there was something in her voice that didn't sound right. I figured immediately that Kellan had done something – he did tend to get a little rambunctious around other kids – but she contradicted that by saying he had been great. I was a little confused, wondering what was wrong with her...until she dropped the goddamned bombshell on my head.

I was seeing red. So fucking pissed off that Captain motherfucking Douche had shown up...had been there for the better part of an hour, and she hadn't called me until just then. He had been there for an hour, saying God only knew what, more than likely making snide comments and scaring the shit out of my son!

I didn't give two shits that Emmett was there. I mean, I knew he would've taken care of my boy. I knew he wouldn't have let anything happen, but I was having a little bit of trouble thinking clearly for the fucking rage I was feeling. She begged me to let him stay, but I hung up the phone. I just couldn't listen to her anymore. Let him stay? Was she fucking crazy? I had trusted her, goddamn it! I had trusted her with my son and the last thing I expected to hear was that she let that idiotic son-of-a-bitch anywhere near him! Hell no. He was going to stay long enough for me to get my ass in the car and get there as fast as I could to pick him up.

And I'm staring down the barrel of a 45…swimming through the ashes of another life…

Kendyll had fallen back to sleep, and for that I was actually grateful. I was in no state of mind to try and explain to her where I was going and why. Though I did feel like an asshole for the fact that she would be alone. Because Kendyll had regained a bit of her appetite, Esme had gone home to make a batch of her famous baked potato soup, insisting that she could fatten Kendyll up much quicker than the hospital food. There was no point in arguing with my mother when it came to food. And, of course, Carlisle had his arms buried elbow deep in someone's broken femur. At least that was what I thought I remembered him telling me. I was rather fucking delirious when he gave me his surgery schedule for the day. And I hadn't expected to be leaving so soon.

Nevertheless, I kissed Kendyll on the forehead, whispered that I'd be back soon, ordered the nurses to keep a close eye on her and to page Carlisle in any emergency, as well as reminded them to keep an eye out for the crazy, redheaded stalker.

I hardly remembered the drive to Bella's; my thoughts were jumbled blurs of that asshole and my son. By the time I got there, all the rage I'd been feeling had rendered me mentally exhausted, and I just wanted Kellan. There were several cars still there...I recognized Emmett's Hummer, Jasper's Jeep, Charlie's cruiser, and another cruiser that appeared to be unmarked. But I fucking knew whose it was. I'd recently ridden in the back of that cruiser. It was Sam's. And since I didn't see Captain Douche's truck anywhere, my brilliant doctor brain figured out pretty quick how Jacob had gotten to the party. I didn't know why, but I felt betrayed. Retribution would've been me immediately calling the Chicago PD to report a restraining order violation...and a dirty cop. But I was too fucking tired for that.

Despite the fact that my best friends were here, I couldn't bring myself to go inside. A confrontation was looming. I could feel it festering inside me, but I didn't want that in front of the kids. They didn't deserve that, especially on their day and my son didn't deserve any of this either. So, after a few calming breaths, I sent Bella a text, simply telling her to bring Kellan out.

Of course, it just wouldn't have been right for Bella not to be a stubborn ass, as I watched her come through the front door, hugging herself in the cold air, sans Kellan.

Goddamn it!

At first I was hostile. Didn't want to talk...didn't want her to touch me...I didn't want a fucking explanation, and I told her that.

But then I looked at her. And I listened, really listened to the conviction in her voice. I saw the sincerity in her eyes as she rambled on about Captain Douche showing up with Leah and that little boy, and how she couldn't find it in her heart to reject him, and I...

She broke me. She unraveled me. Every fucking time. Her strength humbled put up with such bullshit as she had and still be standing in front of me so vulnerable, as if one word from me would fracture her into a million pieces. I wanted to pick her up and hold her.

No real reason to accept the way things have changed…

But I was still so fucking angry about Jacob's little mind games and covert tactics that I couldn't. I snarled and hissed about it, but she didn't get angry back. She seemed to see right through it, touching me gently, begging me with her eyes and her words to let her in. And so I did. How could I not? I found myself confessing what I'd been told about Kendyll and unraveling once again.

She was comforting me, as she always did, when that ignorant son-of-a-bitch interrupted, as if he had an ounce of authority. Bella blew up, and I surprised myself by not...until he said I didn't love her. The motherfucker wouldn't have known love if it kicked him in the balls. I was just so done with his bullshit, though, that I told him he'd won today. I didn't give a shit anymore. If Bella wanted to continue to play his moronic games then so-be-it. I really just wanted to get the fuck out of there.

I felt a small sense of relief when the asshole finally went inside, and was warmed by Bella's soft lips immediately after, only to feel the cold seep in again when she pulled away, venturing back inside to get my boy.

I closed my eyes briefly, leaning against my car, feeling the cold prick of air against my skin in contrast to the warmth of the sun on my face. It was warmer today than it had been in weeks. The snow had started melting slowly into a messy slush, and I noticed large patches of grass in Bella's yard were peeking through. Even though it was warmer today, it was still fucking cold and, knowing winter in Chicago, it was bound to get much colder.

As I waited, distracting myself with the weather and Bella's lawn, I felt antsy. Though it had only been a minute or two since Bella had gone inside, it seemed much longer. My thoughts were heavily weighted with Kendyll; I wanted to push them away as the possibility of that horrific illness was too much to bear, but I couldn't. So I let Bella's brief kiss distract me into thoughts of our most recent night together, and the most incredible countdown to midnight ever known to man.

Staring down the barrel of a 45…

I smiled as I heard the door swing open, expecting to see Kellan coming toward me. My smile fell into a menacing scowl when, instead of my son, I saw Captain Douche barreling down the stairs. He had a look of cold determination on his face and my body tensed immediately. My jaw and fists clenched simultaneously as I glared in his direction. I didn't fucking want this right now; didn't feel like dealing with it, but I decided in that moment, if he wanted a fight – in front of a house full of people – I'd let him throw the first punch...and then I would most definitely take care of the rest. Maybe getting his ass handed to him twice would make him back off, but knowing Jacob, it wasn't likely. He just wasn't that smart.

I watched him as he stalked toward me. He wasn't looking at me. In fact, he turned and slipped through Alice's and Angela's cars, glaring over at me briefly before I heard Sam's cruiser chirp. The asshole bent down in the passenger side rummaging through something. I shook my head, rolling my eyes. What the fuck was he doing? Trying to show off that his dickhead friend was a big bad cop and he could just go through the cop car like he owned it? Give me a fucking break. He was such an idiot.

I heard the car door slam and smirked to myself as, this time, he made a bee-line straight for me.

"Find what you were looking f—" I started, sarcastically. But as I heard two distinct clicks, my eyes shifted suddenly to his right hand.

"Yes, I did," he snarled, raising his hand and pointing the barrel of the Glock in it straight at my head.


I'd never given much thought to how my life would end. Never really thought about how or when it would happen. Other people, patients, yes, but not myself. Being a doctor, working at a hospital, I was surrounded by it, by death. Not every day, thankfully, in my current specialty it was a rare occurrence, like the recent loss of my patient, Lauren's baby. But in all the years I'd been in medicine, I had definitely witnessed my fair share of people leaving this world for the next. If there was a next world. I wasn't even a hundred percent positive of that. I was a doctor; supposed to believe only in scientific fact. Supposed to believe that the imagery witnessed and repeated by those close to death were nothing but the brain itself firing off synopses in a last ditch effort to provide some sort of comfort for the nothingness that followed. I felt like I was supposed to believe that, but strangely enough in my career as a doctor, I witnessed a handful of instances that were unexplainable by modern science. Miracles, perhaps? Was there life after death? I still wasn't sure. How could I be? But I had a feeling I was about to find out.

Everyone's pointing their fingers…always condemning me! And nobody knows what I believe…what I believe!

The thing was I didn't want to. Not yet. I wasn't ready to find out. If I had ever given my own death a second thought, I would've arrogantly thought that I would have a normal death, if such a thing existed. Perhaps a stress-induced heart attack when I was much older, or just simple old age. I would've preferred the latter, in my bed, holding my wife's faithful hand, surrounded by my children and grandchildren.

I never imagined it would be now, standing in Bella's driveway, confronted by a lunatic who thought I was stealing what was his, when she never truly belonged to him to begin with. I never thought it would be from a bullet to my brain at point blank range while people I knew and loved watched helplessly and in horror. I never imagined I would die because I fell in love with an amazing woman.

I never thought that.

And I'm staring down the barrel of a 45…swimming through the ashes of another life…

"Turn around," he ordered, walking toward me.

"What the hell are you doing with that? Don't be fucking stupid," I snapped, trying like hell to hide my fear. "Put that down before you hurt yourself!" This motherfucker was either crazy enough to go ahead and fucking shoot me, or he was stupid enough to try and scare me. I hadn't figured out which it was yet.

"Shut the hell up and turn around!" he shouted, taking more steps toward me. I thought once more about telling him to fuck off, but he just kept coming. I held my hands up immediately, my body frozen in place. Fear and fatigue were taking precedence over my anger.

"Take it easy," I hissed.

"You don't get to tell me what to do, asshole! I'm only gonna say it one more time! Turn. The fuck. Around!"

I fucking did what he said. Now facing toward the long driveway, I heard him walk to my side. Out of my peripheral, I could see the Glock pointed straight at my temple.

"You're not allowed to look at my house anymore! You don't look at my kids, and you don't look at my wife!"

"You know I can't do that, Jake," I replied in a low tone. He took another step, the cool metal of the gun pressed against my temple and I squeezed my eyes shut.


"Then you must be stupid," he stated, his voice monotone. It sent a shock of fear through me; the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

No real reason to accept the way things have changed…staring down the barrel of a 45…

I was no longer able to see the door, but I heard it swing open. Suddenly Emmett's voice rang out.

"What the fuck? Jake! What the fuck are you doing?"

Jacob didn't answer him...bad fucking sign. I heard Emmett curse again, heard the door slam, and then nothing but Captain Douche's breaths and mine, increasing in tempo.

"What are you, just gonna shoot me in front of everyone? In front of Bella?" I asked, trying to disguise the slight shake in my voice. The gun shifted slightly against my skin; a cold chill slithered down my spine.

"Yes," he said, void of emotion.

I was starting to wonder where the fuck Emmett went, and were they going to just let me get blown the fuck away by this idiot, when I heard the door swing open again, and multiple voices erupted.

"Oh my God! You crazy son-of-a-bitch!" Alice screamed.

"Go inside!" Jasper ordered her. "Don't let the kids see!"

My stomach sank to my knees thinking of Kellan. I found myself praying suddenly, that he or any of the kids, for that matter, wouldn't have to witness any of this.

"Jacob, what the hell? You got my gun? Put it down right now, goddamn it!" Sam shouted. I heard shrieking and crying from the other girls, I assumed, but I still hadn't heard Bella's voice. I wondered if she knew yet. I hoped she wouldn't, but I knew it was only a matter of time.

I heard Emmett's voice again. "Jake, man, you made your point, alright? Just put the fucking gun down now!"

But Jacob continued to ignore them. I knew I had to do something to try and save myself, but I couldn't find it in me to lie to tell him I didn't love Bella, that I would leave her alone. I just couldn't do it. He had stopped speaking and that was a very bad sign. I thought if I could get him to talk again, to distract him in some way, I could make a move. I remembered, in my Jiu Jitsu training, how to handle an opponent with a weapon, I just never had to apply that training to real life. And in all honesty, I was fucking terrified.

"Jake..." I spoke in a low, methodical tone, trying to engage him but not set him off any more than he already was. "You don't want to do this, man. Put the gun down. Think of your kids. If you kill me, you'll be in prison. You'll never get to see them...or Bella. Is that what you want? For your kids to know that you're a murderer?"

He didn't answer. All I could hear was his erratic, labored breaths, the blood roaring in my own ears, and the muffled yells of my friends behind me. I couldn't turn to look at him, or anyone for that matter. He was too completely gone for that. I could, however, tell he was trembling. Whether it was in rage or fear, or a combination of both, I had no idea, but I could feel the barrel moving against the back of my left temple.

"Jacob! Step away from Edward and put the gun on the ground! Now!" Charlie's voice was suddenly loud, authoritative, and getting closer. I saw movement out of my peripheral, shifting my eyes to the left, seeing him in an official police stance, his gun drawn as well and pointed at Jacob.

Fuck. This situation just went from bad to straight into the bowels of hell.

Charlie took a step toward us. Jacob tensed, pressing the fucking barrel harder into my head and I hissed, squeezing my eyes shut again.

"I swear to God, Charlie, if you come any closer, I will blow his brains all over that pretty silver car of his." His voice was actually calm. I found myself wondering suddenly when the fuck Jacob Black had become a cold-blooded killer.

If I didn't do something soon, he was going to do it. I was convinced he was going to shoot me and all of these people, my friends and the woman I loved included, were going to watch me die. I fought back a tear as I thought of my son. All I could ask at this point was that he wouldn't watch his dad get shot...and that they would remove my body before he could see me, bleeding out with a gaping hole in my head.

Suddenly I heard her. I heard her shouting for people to move out of her way. I heard her as she tore through the door, her footsteps on the porch, and her loud, strangled gasp.

"NO, Jacob! STOP!" she screamed. "Please, please, Jacob, don't do this!"

I heard his breath falter. His hand trembled more intensely as the barrel pulled only a fraction away from my scalp.

That was it. That was the distraction I was looking for. I spun in toward him, slammed my hand on top of his forearm and shoved his arm holding the Glock toward the ground. I heard Charlie yelling my name at the same time I heard the shot ring out. And then everything went quiet, save for the ringing in my ears. Jake and I both fell to the ground. I wasn't sure where the gun was, but I felt Jacob's body jerk violently next to me and I rolled onto my back on the gravel, feeling the little rocks digging into my shoulders even through my jacket. I looked over and that was when I noticed the electrodes coming off of Jacob's back as he jerked like a fish out of water, his eyes rolled back in his fucking idiotic head, as Charlie ran toward us. He hadn't had his gun drawn after all; it was his Taser. Go fucking figure.

I still couldn't hear, only the loud ringing in my ears and the thumping of my own pulse. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion...Charlie, Emmett and Jasper flipping Jake on his stomach while Charlie handcuffed him. Sam going to pick up his gun, like a fucking moron and Jasper jumping up to push him away from it. I really couldn't believe they gave that idiot a badge and called him a detective. Emmett was in my face suddenly. His mouth was moving, but I couldn't understand what he was saying. I wanted to laugh. I was alive, Captain Douche was alive – unfortunately – but the image of him getting tased and handcuffed was fucking hilarious to me. I went to take a deep breath, when a searing pain ripped through my lungs radiating through my rib cage, into my side and radiating down my left thigh. It took my breath away. I groaned, reaching my hand to where it hurt the most, just below my ribs on the left side and, when I pulled it back out, it was covered in blood.

"Shit," I hissed, realizing I could hear myself as suddenly, a cacophony of sounds hit me from all directions. I heard Bella screaming for someone to let go of her, Garrett I thought. I wanted to go to her so badly and hold her, but the pain was paralyzing and Emmett was practically on top of me. He was demanding that I look at him, but I couldn't focus. My watery eyes were searching for her but I couldn't see her.

"Let me go!" she continued to scream.

"Charlie, he's bleeding! And his leg! Shit!" Emmett shouted; his voice hinted at panic. Emmett never panicked. I felt hands pulling on my jacket and shirt, and looked over to see Charlie's eyes widen for a split second before his head snapped to the side.

"Alice! Call an ambulance! Tell them he's been shot and we need them to hurry! Tell them to get the cops here too!" I heard Bella cry out when he said that, and seconds later, Alice's hysterical voice on the phone. "Tanya, run and grab some towels...anything; we have to stop this bleeding!"

Emmett immediately pulled his shirt off and ripped it in half shoving one half it into my side while Charlie wrapped the other around my thigh.

"Fuck," I groaned.

"I'm sorry, man," Emmett tried to smile, but it wasn't normal. It wasn't an Emmett smile. "You're gonna be alright, you hear me?"

I nodded as best I could. "" I coughed a little. Goddamn, it hurt so much to breathe.

"Yeah, but you're gonna be okay, brother, I promise."

At the same time, I heard Sam starting to say something to the effect of he was a cop and he could take Jacob in. Charlie cut him off with a sharp, menacing tone.

"The hell you will! You're in deep shit yourself, Detective! Bringing him here...violating a restraining order with a loaded gun in your car! Are you insane? You'll be lucky if they only strip you of your badge and not lock your stupid ass up along with him!"

My breathing was getting shallower because it was just too fucking painful to draw a full breath, and I felt like I was frozen to the bone. I heard footsteps racing toward me and suddenly, Bella's beautiful, pain-stricken face was in front of me.

"Edward! Oh God, Dad! There's so much blood! Do something!" She rolled up a towel in her hand and gently lifted my head, placing it beneath like a pillow. Then she gingerly pressed another one on top of Emmett's shirt. I grimaced with the small movements, but I tried to smile at her. I wasn't sure if it registered though.

"Don'" I reached up to her face and she grabbed my hand. My voice was barely audible. It seemed to make her cry harder.

"Edward, I'm so sorry!" She cried, her voice full of unbridled panic. "This is my fault! I'm so sorry! Please stay with me, Edward."

"Shh...not your...fault..." I coughed a little, groaning right after because it felt like my insides were being ripped the fuck out. "I'm not...going...anywhere...okay?"

She nodded frantically. "Okay, just keep looking at me, please Edward. I love you so much!" Her sobs were softer now, but I hated so much when I made her cry.

"I too. Where's...K-Kellan?"

Her face twisted in pain as her tears fell relentlessly. "He's inside. Upstairs with my mom and the other kids. He's okay, baby. He doesn't know anything. None of them do." She tried to smile, but like Emmett, it didn't look natural.

I heard sirens in the background and felt a hint of relief. My eyelids were so heavy I could barely keep them open. I let them close for a split second, when Bella touched my face, crying out in panic.

"No, Edward! Open your eyes and look at me! Please! Dad, help him!"

I tried to open them, but my eyelids only fluttered. "It's...okay...doesn't...hurt anymore," I whispered. It wasn't a total lie. I was starting to feel numb. But my body felt so an elephant was sitting on me. In my head, I knew what all this meant. It took everything I had not to ask for Kellan to be brought down so that I could see his little face one more time. The bullet had hit something...something major, and I knew it was only a matter of minutes before I bled out. But I didn't want him to see me like this. My death would be hard enough for his young mind to process, I didn't want him to have to deal with the trauma of seeing his dad lying in a pool of blood. He would never get over that.

"Edward? Baby?" Bella sobbed. Goddamn it, this was going to be the hardest on her. I didn't want that for her. I knew she'd carry around all this guilt for the rest of her life and the thought of that was unbearable.

"Don't...feel...guilty...promise me," I pleaded with her.

"What?" She shook her head in confusion.

"And...tell..." I took a couple shallow breaths, ", Bella."

"No don't do that! You're not going to die! Edward Masen Cullen, do you hear me? You are not going to die! You promise me that!"

"I...promise," I lied. There was no way I could promise that. And I could tell that my body was shutting down.

Captain Douche must've begun to panic as well when he heard the sirens. He'd been unusually quiet since, well since he shot me, but all of a sudden he began to chant.

"I was only trying to scare him! I didn't mean for it to go off, I swear to God I didn't!"

I honestly wanted to feel bad for him as I lay dying in the fucking gravel, but I couldn't. I did warn him and now, he was probably going to be rotting in prison somewhere, unable to see his kids; only able to watch them grow up behind a glass barrier with a telephone as his only communication once a month. He did this to himself. At least, I was hoping, I'd get to watch mine from somewhere up above or some other dimension. Who fucking knew...I guessed I would soon.

Several voices at once yelled at him to shut up. Bella jumped up from where she'd been hovering over me and I closed my eyes just for a second. I felt hot tears scorching the frigid skin at my temples. I wasn't crying; I was making peace. The pain was subsiding, and I knew what that meant too.

"Shut up, Jacob!" Bella screamed. "If lose him, I will do everything…everything in my power to make sure you suffer! Do you understand me? I wish it were you lying over there! Not him! You deserve everything you're gonna get!" I heard a smack and a brief struggle before she yelled again. "I hate you!" She was back in front of me in a flash...caressing my face, whispering that she was sorry, that she loved me, and crying.

I heard tires on gravel, car doors slamming, and Charlie yelling, "Over here!" I fell in and out of consciousness; flashes of uniforms, medical equipment and Bella's face, frantically trying to talk to me. I could hear my own breaths in my ears, shallow, and the paramedics scrambling to get me hoisted onto the waiting ambulance, one yelling to the other that my blood pressure was dropping.

"It's Doctor Edward Cullen!" Bella yelled at them. "His dad is at Chicago General, take him there!" I heard someone calling her name...Alice, maybe. At this point, I couldn't tell anymore. "I'm going with him! No, Dad! I'm going with him!" I didn't know what Charlie had said to her. Probably tried to convince her that I would be fine...that she should stay with her kids. That was what I would've done. "Tell Mom to give the kids a kiss for me and I'll call her. Please." I heard Charlie again, murmuring something to her. "Emmett, call Esme, see if you can take Kellan to her. I-I don't want her coming here and seeing all that...blood." She started to cry again. I hated that she was crying. I just wanted her to stop.

Em came over and grabbed my hand. "You hang in there, bro," he said, his voice gruff. "I got little man, don't you worry." I couldn't say anything for the oxygen mask covering my face, so I nodded, looking into my best friend's watery eyes and knowing that was all I wanted...for him to take care of my boy.

The next thing I knew, I was in the back of the ambulance, Bella at my side, talking to me, her beautiful blue eyes filled with fear. I could barely hear what she was saying as I watched the paramedic push something from a syringe into the line attached to my blood-stained hand. Morphine, perhaps, or something similar. It warmed and tingled in my veins.

It was so strange; my life wasn't passing before my eyes like I always thought it would. I wasn't worrying about my mistakes or regrets. I was only thinking about those I parents, Kellan, Bella – who was squeezing my hand – and Kendyll. My heart broke for her. It killed me knowing I was going to have to break my promise to her.

Bella's mouth was moving; she was speaking to me so I tried to listen harder over the roar that had returned to my ears. "You promised," it sounded like a whisper, though I knew she was probably talking much louder. "You promised you would never leave me. You have to stay, Edward, please. Stay with me...stay with me...I love you...I won't make it without you, please!" Her tears fell on the white sheet covering my chest. I couldn't talk back; I was so tired. All I could do was blink at her slowly and think to myself, wishing she could hear me.

I'm so sorry.

The last thing I heard as I closed my eyes and let the blackness encompass me was the paramedic cursing.

"Shit...Doctor Cullen? He's coding!"

And I'm staring down the barrel of a 45…swimming through the ashes of another life….
No real reason to accept the way things have changed…
Staring down the barrel of a 45."


*Chapter End Notes: Thank you so much for reading! I'll say it again…just trust me.